Article published on the 2009-06-01 Latest update 2009-06-05 14:40 TU
The nature of shock was dissected only a few days ago in the blog. It wouldn’t have been a shock, I mooted, if the defending champion Ana Ivanovic were to lose. That’s because she’s had middling form since her win here last year and dropped from world number one to world number eight. Her elimination on Sunday afternoon – at the hands of Victoria Azarenka – came about 20 minutes before a bonafide shock.
The top seed Rafael Nadal lost in four sets to the Swedish 23rd seed Robin Soderling, a man he’d destroyed a few weeks ago in Rome in straight sets for the loss of one game. The Spaniard’s winning streak at Roland Garros was record breaking; 31 games taking in four titles. Nadal won the 2008 crown without dropping a set.
When 24-year-old Soderling took the first set it was the first time that Nadal had suffered such impudence since the 2007 final. When Soderling grabbed the third set 6-4 it was uncharted waters for the packed centre court crowd. Nadal had never been taken to five sets during his reign in Paris.
The recovery never came. Soderling played a blinder of a fourth set tie-break and move to a 6-1 lead -five match points. Nadal saved one but couldn’t hold on. Soderling took the shootout seven points to two. In the post match press conference, Soderling was asked the key. He said his plan was to ‘run’ Nadal and not be ran ragged by the champion.
This high risk strategy involved playing consistently deep ground strokes off both wings, serving well and taking the chances that would come up. Soderling converted five of six break points and only offered up four occasions for Nadal to break his serve – two of which Nadal took. In short it was the triumph of patience, placement and panache. It also relied on Nadal not being able to impose his habitual will on the red clay.
Nadal was gracious enough to say Soderling played well and he himself had not been aggressive enough with his ground strokes. He said he was disappointed to have lost at a venue where he’d had so much success. But he’d deal with the shock, he said, by going back to his swimming pool, continuing to work hard and by trying to defend his Wimbledon crown next month.
This Monday morning, in the men’s draw only two players have experience of claiming a grand slam –Andy Roddick the American sixth seed, the last man to win at the US Open in 2003 before Roger Federer annexed centre court in New York as his own personal fiefdom. Federer, the second seed here and beaten finalist over the past three years, is still alive despite some decidedly below par performances and has now the best chance to lift the only title absent from his collection of 13 grand slams. The question is can he deal with the shock?