Business as usual for Fed Express
Originally published on: 26/02/10 11:37
There may be just ten places between them in the ATP rankings, but the gulf in class between Roger Federer and Robin Soderling was plain to see for the second time in a month as the Swiss cruised through to the quarter-finals 6-4 7-6(5) 7-6(5).
The first set of the French Open final just over three weeks ago will haunt Soderling’s dreams, but under the different kind of pressure of a fourth round encounter he happily matched Federer for the first eight games.
But it was once again the Swede who blinked first. Two poor forehands and a tight miss on a backhand pass opened the door for the Swiss, and at the third time of asking, Federer broke to take a 5-4 lead. In the blink of an eye the set was his, holding to 15 with a minimum of fuss.
“I think I will beat him in marathon – easy!” – Soderling
Staring an eleventh unanswered defeat against the world No.2 in the face, Soderling changed tactics. After electing to forego net advances in the first, he stepped up the court at every opportunity early on.
It looked to be a sensible ploy – the Swede did not drop a point on serve until his fourth service game of the second set and remained unbroken for the remainder of the match.
Holding serve, though, is only half the battle, and Federer continued to deny Soderling a sniff of a break as the set once more lurched towards the business end, and the ninth tie-break the two have ever played.
At least here Soderling could claim to have beaten Federer once before, claiming the solitary set he has to his name against the Swiss in a tie-break in Halle four years ago.
But the world No.12 could not stop Federer in either set. The Swiss dominated the second set breaker, never falling behind after securing a mini-break for a 5-3 lead.
After another tight set, in which Soderling brought up his only break point with a 100mph forehand return only to squander the golden chance by netting a nervy second serve from Federer, the pair once more had to be separated by the breaker.
This time, however, the Swiss did not have it all his own way. It was Soderling who secured what looked to be a crucial mini-break that left him serving for the set at 5-4. But a cross-court forehand from Federer and an unforgivable double fault left the Swiss with match point, which Federer accepted at the first time of asking with a service winner.
“It was sort of a serving contest out there today,” said Federer afterwards. “Not many rallies, so maybe not as much fun for the people.
“But I stayed calm, waited for my chance, and thank God I came up with a good forehand when I had to in the breaker.
“It was always going to be hard for him to keep serving those big second serves when they really mattered. That’s why I wasn’t particularly surprised he hit a double fault at 5-5 in the breaker.”
Just like he had been after the Roland Garros final, Soderling was philosophical after the match, particularly about the third set tie-break.
“Apart from maybe the double fault, I don’t think that I lost the last tiebreak,” he said. “I think he won it.”
“I didn’t expect to be broken many times. I’ve only been broken I think twice during this tournament, maybe three times. So, you know, I’ve been serving very well since the first match.
“I think I will beat him in marathon,” he added after his eleventh straight loss to Federer. “Easy!”