Nadal v Soderling: Nothing Personal?

June 1, 2009
Nadal reviews defeat

Nadal reviews defeat

Nadal crashed out of the French Open to Robin Soderling. The post-match interviews suggested there was nothing personal between the two. Or was there? And did it contribute to the result?

Nadal’s loss to Soderling in round four of the French Open [May 31st 2009] has been classed as one of the biggest upsets of the year. It has already been written upon at length. I just have one additional thought which may be more suited to back page gossip columns

There may have been something personal between the players. It may have worked to help Soderling’s game.

You have to go back into the history of their games to see what might have happened between these two players. And whatever it was may have been no more than one of the spats that might be expected to be no more or less in frequent in Tennis than in any other sporting area.
The BBC offers some history to the match and its antecedents.

World number one Rafael Nadal suffered his first ever defeat at the French Open in a shock 6-2 6-7 (2-7) 6-4 7-6 (7-2) loss to Sweden’s Robin Soderling. Nadal, chasing a fifth straight Roland Garros title, saw his 31-match unbeaten run in Paris come to an end in one of the biggest upsets in tennis history.
Soderling’s win comes a month after he was beaten 6-1 6-0 by Nadal in Rome. [Clue no 1]
“I told myself this is just another match” said the 24-year-old Swede … All the time, I was trying to play as if it was a training session. When I was 4-1 up in the (fourth set) tie-break, I started to believe”

The article goes on to supply other clues to the players’ attitudes to one another:

Soderling had lost his previous three matches against Nadal [Clue no 2 including a recent humiliation in Rome, which Nadal went on to win] but seemed a man transformed on Court Philippe Chatrier ..

The Spaniard struggled from the outset against a player with whom he was involved in an unsavoury spat at Wimbledon two years ago when Soderling mocked his pre-service routine [Clue No 3].

The evidence suggests?

Not a lot really. The story I am putting together may be no more than speculation.

Stay with the speculation, if only because Nadal losing is more than just ‘he had to lose on clay sooner or later’. What if any were the special elements in the loss? Might they the history between the players have worked for once as a spur to Nadal’s opponent rather than a deeply damaging mind-set of anticipated defeat.

Players say they go into every match believing they can win. This tends to get modified to ‘if I play well I have a good chance’ (Murray’s current favorite and cautious pre-match remark).

Soderling may have had visualised avenging his recent humiliating loss in Rome. He may have had two years regretting Nadal’s triumphs after their Wimbledon encounter. Which (we still don’t know how) he was able to turn to his advantage.

It’s nothing personal, as we are taught that the Mafia believed. Except I’m suggesting that revenge is always personal.

I rest my tenuous case.

Postscript

After an injury break, Nadal begins 2010 with a win over Soderling at a mini-tournament in Abu Dahbi. The Swede had advanced into the top ten in the world, Nadal had regained his number two spot, and Soderling had beaten Roger Federer in the previous round.