Soderling exit opens draw for Del Potro at Indian Wells
Soderling's exit at Indian Wells leaves the prospect of a Nadal-Del Potro semi-final
Another round of tennis in the sizzling high 80s at Indian Wells and another seed’s chances drain away like water into the desert sand.
Robin Soderling has been one of the form players of 2011. He came into the season’s first Masters with an 18-1 match-winning record and a tour-best three titles for the year. It is no accident, then, that he overtook Andy Murray at the start of the year and has stayed there ever since.
To add a little more sheen to his confidence, he also played a winning role in Sweden’s Davis Cup tie just 10 days ago.
But his third-round match against the more diminutive -by six inches -Philipp Kohlschreiber always promised to be a close affair.
There are certain match-ups that deliver a synergy beyond what the rankings promise. The first round encounter between Roger Federer and Igor Andreev was such a one.
The Russian has always pushed the Swiss hard, has taken a set in each of their three previous contests, and almost knocked Federer out of the US Open in 2008 in a three-and-a-half-hour five-setter. And Andreev gave Federer another test this week, pushing him to a 7-5, 7-6 victory.
The history between Soderling and the German has a similar edge. In four meetings, Kohlschreiber has won three, all in tie-breakers in the deciding sets. Then in their last meeting, just a month ago in the second round of Rotterdam, Kohlschreiber held match point for another win, but this time it was Soderling who closed out the match in, remarkably, another tie-breaker.
The difference seemed to come down to the evolution that Soderling has shown in his match temperament. He stays calm, remains confident and so finds it easier to close out the big points. In his current form, therefore, Soderling was the strong favourite to get the upper hand again.
Initially, it all went according the script and the Swede ran away to a 3-0 lead, but Kohlschreiber’s nimble, varied, all-court game always manages to undermine the powerful Soderling baseline game, and the German closed the deficit to 3-3.
With another break of serve apiece, the two men headed to what has become their commonplace scenario: a tiebreak. Again, Soderling took the early advantage to lead 6-3 and held a further two set points before Kohlschreiber served it out, 10-8.
Apart from the sweetest of backhands from the Kohlschreiber single-hander firing winners to both sides of the court, it became apparent that Soderling had another problem: The trainer was called to massage the Swede’s left foot and ankle. Soderling had already pulled out of the doubles competition with illness and now it appeared that he was also carrying an injury.
The Swede, though, is a fighter and it was a credit to him and the growing strength of his game that he went through the second set on near-equal terms. He did not looking comfortable, and had trouble chasing down the assortment of ground-strokes and volleys thrown his way by Kohlschreiber, yet he kept the score level until the middle of the set.
His resistance could be put down in part to stunning first serve stats for the set -81 percent to Kohlschreiber’s poor 38 percent -but Soderling’s movement was too limited to hold off a style of tennis that keeps him off balance even on a good day. At the first time of asking, Kohlschreiber converted a single break point to win the match 6-4.
So the No4 seed joins Nos 5 and 6 in exiting from the top half of the draw, leaving Rafael Nadal to continue his serene progress without the prospect of a single seed in his path until the quarterfinals.
Once there, as seems likely from the dominant tennis he has produced in his early rounds, the highest seed he can face is fellow Spaniard, No23 Albert Montanes, who beat No11 Nicolas Almagro.
Soderling’s exit, hot on the heels of Murray’s first-round loss, opened up the other top-half quarter of the draw for the winner of what promised to be an exciting confrontation between two of the most talented 22-year-olds on the tour: Juan Martin Del Potro and Alexandr Dolgopolov.
Both are in hot form: the Argentine has a 13-4 win-loss record this year to the Ukrainian’s 13-6, but there the similarity ends. Their styles of play are like chalk and cheese: a bludgeon against a scimitar, a power game against unconventional flair.
However, Dolgopolov could not string his best tennis together against an Argentine who has begun to flower on the hot, hard courts of North America, and it was a straight sets win to Del Potro.
The next round, though, could be rather more interesting, as Del Potro attempts to break down the variety and tactics of Kohlschreiber where Soderling could not.
There’s a distance to go yet, but there remains on the horizon the fascinating prospect of a Nadal vs Del Potro semi-final.
Nadal may have won when they last met at Indian Wells in 2009, but the Argentine took his revenge in three further meetings that year: at the Miami Masters, the Montreal Masters and, most memorable of all, the semi-finals of the US Open. There is therefore much to whet the appetite should they meet on the American hard courts again later this week.