November 14, 2010

At a New Level

It's no question that Robin Soderling has climbed his way into the tennis elite over the past eighteen months.

Twice a finalist at the French Open, he's steadily climbed up the rankings and has been firmly entrenched in the top ten all year long. Still, despite the fact that he's proven his ability against the biggest talents in the sport -- he's beaten Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray all this year -- his five titles to date had all been at second-tier tournaments, and he'd failed to reach even the finals of a Masters event.

But this past week in Paris, the twenty-six year old Swede had a breakthrough. As the fourth seed he was certainly one of the favorites, and he had most of his major obstacles eliminated for him -- Michael Llodra took care of Nikolay Davydenko and Novak Djokovic for him while, in the other half of the draw, Gael Monfils did the same to Murray and Federer. But that didn't mean his performance was any less impressive. He hadn't lost a set on the way to the semifinals and rebounded after dropping a tight first set to Llodra on Saturday.

For his part, Monfils put up quite a show himself on the way to the finals. Fresh off a win in Montpellier, the French #2 beat three favored opponents in a row to reach his fourth championship match of the year. But his nearly three hour marathon against Federer on Saturday might have worn him down somewhat -- he lost serve twice in the first set while Soderling won sixty-five percent of the total points. Monfils raised his level a bit in the second, but Robin stayed stronger, ultimately winning in a decisive tiebreak and earning the right to hoist his first ever Masters trophy.

The win couldn't have come at a better time for the newly appointed world #4. With the year-end championships in London getting underway in just a week, Soderling made a solid statement at the last Tour event of the year -- he's clearly capable of winning the big titles and I wouldn't be surprised if a major one came soon. So if the seven men who'll be waiting for him at the O2 Arena -- most of whom have a couple of Masters titles to their own names -- didn't already fear him, they certainly have a reason to now.

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