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Soderling ices Djokovic to book semi-final spot

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Originally published on: 26/02/10 11:50

Robin Soderling became the unlikely first qualifier for the semi-finals of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals after following up his straight-sets victory over Rafael Nadal with an even more emphatic win against defending champion Novak Djokovic.

“Nobody beats me six times in a row!” said Soderling, mimicking his comments after losing for a tenth time to Roger Federer in the Roland Garros final having this time beaten a the Serb for the first time.

The Swede was coolness personified throughout his 7-6(5) 6-1 victory over the world No.3, who wilted as the effects of a marathon season start to catch up with him.

Djokovic had arrived at the World Tour Finals as the man to beat, not only as the title holder but also arriving in London having won three of his last four tournaments and with just one defeat to his name since the US Open, avenged on Monday night in a pulsating 3-6 6-4 7-5 victory over Nikolay Davydenko.

“Nobody beats me six times in a row!”

But from the offset, the Serb looked jaded and irritable, bouncing his racket across the baseline in frustration as early as game five after seeing Soderling hold to love, the Swede’s booming first and second serves the key to a string of comfortable service games.

The reaction was more telling than the scoreline at that stage, as the Swede cruised on serve but met some dogged defence from Djokovic as the Serb made hard work of holding his own.

He might have gifted the set to Soderling in game ten when his first double fault contributed to a slide to 0-40, but was let off the hook when Soderling hooked a rudimentary backhand into the tramlines, and clung on to reach the tiebreak.

Already playing with a great rhythm, Soderling went after Djokovic in the breaker, pummeling him into submission from the baseline. Had it not been for two shaky backhand volleys, he would have put the set to bed earlier, but gave a tame second serve the treatment it deserved and finished the job with a huge service winner.

The match ended as a contest from then, as a drained Djokovic failed to muster up enough energy to put the Swede under any intense pressure, presumably seeing no benefit in pushing for a third set. To his credit, Soderling refused to let his own level drop, taking the countless chances handed to him with flair.

From 1-1 the Swede broke three times against a man he had lost to in all of their five previous meetings, sealing victory when Djokovic made an ill-advised rushing to the net on a tame second serve on Soderling’s second match point. The result confirmed that the Swede, a late replacement for the injured Andy Roddick, is guaranteed a semi-final slot – the first to do so – by virtue of his two straight-sets wins.

“Well, it’s great,” was the Swede’s reaction afterwards. “Top eight, top nine guys in the world here. I won two matches in straight sets against world No.2 and No.3. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Well maybe one thing – avoiding Roger Federer in the semi-finals. “I played Roger many, many times,” he added. “For every time he beat me, I think I will get closer to a win, so we’ll see. But it’s going to be tough whoever I play.”

The result means that Djokovic must beat Rafael Nadal on Friday in order to keep his title defence alive, but the dejected Serb sounds ready for the season to be over.

“I didn’t enjoy playing today’s match, that’s for sure,” said the world No.3, whose chances of topping the Spaniard in the year-end rankings disappeared with that result. “He was serving really well – all credit to him.”

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