An article from the Bleacher Report on Robin:The Season of the Swede
by Nima Naderi
In tennis, the term "specialist" commonly links a player to how they excel on a specific surface. From the perfect slide on clay, to the proper pounding on a hard-court, the distinction of being known as a specialist is a difficult one to achieve.
In practice, one must preform at a high level on their surface of choice in order to obtain the coveted specialist title.
Clay-court king Rafael Nadal holds the label on the dirt (winning four French Open titles), while Roger Federer can lay claim to the lord of the lawns (capturing six Wimbledon crowns).
The label of specialist has been shed to some extent in times, due in large part to the unification of the court surfaces around the world. The tour players have harnessed their skill-sets to adapt to the many different playing fields around the world—but preferences do exist.
Subsequently, there are very few players who relish performing well at the end of the season. Whether it's a trip to the Maldive Islands, or recovering one's body from a grueling season on tour—the end of the season can be taxing for the tour's best.
When autumn hits the ATP World Tour, there's one player in particular whose eyes light up when a roof is put over his head: Sweden's top player, Robin Soderling.
The Swede has mounted what has become a banner year. Highlighted by defeating Rafael Nadal for his first career loss at Roland Garros, the Swede has catapulted his ranking from No. 17 at the start of the season, to its current position of No. 11.
On the heels of his success in Paris, Soderling raced to his best ever finishes at Wimbledon and the US Open (fourth-round and quarterfinals, respectively). He also captured his first ever title on clay, in Bastad.
Although the vast majority of the Swede's success this year has come under the glaring sunshine of the ATP World Tour and Grand Slam venues, the indoor environment is where Soderling does his best work.
Prior to his ground-breaking '09 season, Soderling had captured three tour titles in his career, all on indoor surfaces (Lyon in '04 and '09, and Milan 2005).
In fact, Soderling's appearances in the finals of tour events prior to this year had all taken place on indoor hard-court surfaces, spanning the globe from his home turf in Stockholm, to the United States in Memphis, Tennessee.
Soderling's high ball toss, coupled with his loopy ground-game, have always found serenity when put indoors. The Swede's win-loss record stands at a staggering 74-30 lifetime indoors (.712 winning percentage), which includes a 22-6 mark on carpet-courts.
So what makes Soderling so good when put under a closed roof?
For starters, the Tibro native's style relies heavily on constructing rallies that last under six shots. This tactic is much easier to employ on a slick, indoor surface. Elements such as sun, wind, and humidity are negated, leaving the pure ball-striking of the Monte Carlo resident to flourish.
Soderling's movement also seems to be cleaner and tighter indoors. Regularly seen sprawling for out-wide shots on outdoor surfaces, the indoor courts allow for efficient and calculated steps to both his groundstrokes, leaving his opponents with very few options.
The strike-zones of Soderling are most devastating when taken from hip to shoulder height. The lower, skidding bounce provided by playing indoors lends to the electricity of the Swede's forehand while dominating rallies.
The flat, sledgehammer type forehand has caused many sleepless nights for his tour opponents.
"I always played pretty aggressive ever since I started playing tennis. I like to hit the ball hard, I feel like when I'm playing my best tennis, I'm playing my most aggressive tennis," said Soderling.
After losing to Soderling during the 2008 Regions Morgan Keegan Championships, American Andy Roddick commented on the difficulties of playing the indoor specialist.
"I'm sure if you look at his results on other surfaces, you will find that his win total is probably 50 percent higher indoors," said Roddick.
Roddick was made to repeat those sentiments later in the year, when he lost to Soderling for the second straight time in Lyon, France.
The aggressive demeanor of the Swede is what allows him to compete at his highest level consistently.
"I grew up playing on fast surfaces indoors, and that's how everyone played in Sweden," explained Soderling.
With his confidence skyrocketing after his Roland Garros run, Soderling now believes he is never out of any match that he enters.
"Paris really helped me a lot, since that tournament I raised my level," added Soderling.
Confidence is a beautiful thing if you're a tennis player, and it can make or break a player's season.
With nothing short of the top 10 in sight, the Swede will now focus on qualifying for the prestigious Barclays ATP World Tour Final.
"I try not to think about it too much, there's still a lot of tennis to played this year, but if I can play well in the big tournaments, I will have a chance," said Soderling.
The Swede's chances of qualifying for the final eight event will be heightened with the setting of the sun.
With minimal distractions left in his way, don't be surprised if Soderling captures one of the three remaining positions for the London finale.
The season of the Swede is upon us.