November 25, 2009

Last In, First Out the Gate

Robin Soderling was the last man to qualify for the year-end Barclays ATP World Championships, getting the ticket only after Andy Roddick withdrew with an injury. But the Roland Garros runner-up, having climbed to a career-high #9 ranking, was off to a quick start during the round-robin matches in London this week.

First he pulled off a repeat of the French Open fourth round by downing Rafael Nadal in straight sets. Then he rolled over last year's champion, red-hot Novak Djokovic, 6-1 in the second. That clinched the Swede's spot in the semifinals -- quite an accomplishment for his first World Tour Finals. If he beats Nikolay Davydenko tomorrow, a task he last completed two weeks ago at the Paris Masters, he'll be the only one of the Elite Eight to amass a 3-0 record during the first stage of the tournament.

Soderling's quick run to the top of the tennis world is just another indication of how the sport is changing. Nadal, who ended last year as #1, hasn't yet won a match in London -- he'll get his last chance tomorrow against Djokovic, but I fear his chances are slim. And Juan Martin Del Potro, who beat Roger Federer for the second straight time earlier this evening, earned his own first appearance in the Championship semis. (Roger, of course, also made the semis for the seventh time, returning after a disappointing performance in Shanghai last year.

It might be too soon to say the reign of past champions is over -- after all, I've said that a few times this year only to be proven wrong. But there is a new crop of kids to watch out for, if not at this tournament, then certainly next year. Soderling might not be able to pull out the big win this week -- despite all the success he's had in 2009, he still has a dismal record against Roger -- but I'm sure every other player on Tour is beginning to see him as a real force.

Here's hoping he can keep it up!

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