Why is he pretending he done anything else to be remembered about, other than that win?There is an epic feel to this year’s French Open build-up, with Rafael Nadal cast as the fading champion facing the cold-eyed challenge of world No 1 Novak Djokovic.
If Nadal can emerge from his crisis of confidence to lift a 10th title in Paris, it will arguably be the greatest achievement of his career. Just now, though, 66-1 feels less like his win-loss record at Roland Garros than his odds of retaining his crown.
It is interesting, then, to speak to Robin Soderling – the man responsible for Nadal’s only previous defeat at the French Open. Not only does Soderling support the general perception that Nadal’s reign is on the rocks, but he is also a little excited at the prospect. He has had enough of being the answer to that particular quiz question.
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“This year, for the first time in a long time, Rafa is not the favourite,” Soderling told the Telegraph. “Novak is. Of course it’s going to be tough to beat Rafa at Roland Garros, over five sets on clay: a much bigger deal than playing best-of-three. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened.”
And what about that crazy statistic: 10 years of struggle against the world’s elite and only a single loss? “It says more about Rafa than it does about me,” Soderling replies. “It will never happen again, not in 100 years.
“It’s good to be the only one, but everybody is asking me only about this match. I am really proud of many other things in my career: being in the top five, reaching the final of a grand slam twice. I’m actually even more proud of making it to the French Open final in 2010 than the previous year, because defending those points was a big challenge.
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“So maybe it’s better that Rafa loses again, then everybody will stop asking me about it. It’s become a sort of legend, and people often get it wrong: some think that I am the only person ever to beat him in any tennis match, others think it was in the final of the French Open, some even think it was at Wimbledon.”
In fact, Soderling scored his thunderbolt of a 6-2, 6-7, 6-4, 7-6 win in the fourth round of the 2009 tournament. It was a difficult season for Nadal: not only had his parents recently separated, but his knees were jangling with what turned out to be chronic tendinitis.
Still, as Soderling puts it: “When you get to the later stages of a slam everybody is a bit injured. I remember that my knee was hurting and that I was feeling a bit tired. Maybe he was having trouble with his knees. But you always feel these things more when you are losing.”
This might sound like lèse-majesté on Soderling’s part, but then he speaks with the sort of offhand directness for which Swedes are noted. Plus, after his own agonising experiences over the past few years, he is hardly going to fret about a few heckles from rabid Nadal obsessives.
In the summer of 2011, Soderling had climbed as high as No 5 in the world, yet his burgeoning career would be snatched away from him in a matter of months. It began during Wimbledon, with fatigue and inexplicable temperature swings. He kept playing, only to be diagnosed with glandular fever in the autumn. This was no ordinary infection, for every time he tried to resume training, the lassitude would return with a vengeance.
Now, almost four years on, he has been forced to acknowledge that his sporting career is probably over, and to strike out along new paths – both as tournament director of the Stockholm Open and as the creator of a new high-end tennis ball named the RS (strings and over-grips are to follow).
“It’s still a dream of mine to play professional tennis again,” said Soderling. “Before this happened I was planning to play until I was well past 30 [his current age]. But now I try not to think about it too much.
“In the first six months, I was feeling so ill that I was just trying to live through the days. After about a year I started to think that I might have to retire. Yes, I had tough days. But things changed. I had a kid and I have a second kid on the way now. There are many other things in life.
“Over the last six months I’ve started feeling much better, maybe 90 per cent. I can train a little bit now but I would rather do too little than too much. I’ve made the same mistake so many times, starting to feel better and then stepping up the training too soon and having a relapse. I’ve learnt that tennis isn’t everything.”