The two best shot makers in professional tennis, Roger Federer and Robin Soderling (above).

Tonight’s heavyweight quarter-final showdown between Roger Federer and Robin Soderling constitutes a rematch of last year’s US Open quarter-final in which Roger Federer, despite getting out to a bagel lead, had to fight for dear life to stay alive in a fourth set that, if Soderling won, would have seen him greatly emboldened and full of momentum for the fifth.  While that match went Federer’s way, 6-0, 6-3, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (6), Roger dropped his first set to Soderling since Halle in 2005, and was the last match Federer won in a series in which he is 12-1.  Federer’s win over Soderling saw him through to the semi-finals in a major for the 22nd straight time, but the big Swede who took out Nadal at Roland Garros for Roger in 2009 seemed to finally be getting the hang of playing against Federer–a scary thought for Roger.  Roger had to stare down two Soderling set points in that fourth set to advance, but the match clearly marked a change in the tenor of the Federer-Soderling head to head.

With Soderling’s serve, which is arguably the hardest in the sport, and his immense groundstrokes, Soderling has always represented a threat to Roger, despite losing the first 12 matchups in their head to head, which spanned all surfaces but indoors.  But Soderling had always lacked a bit of maturity and never quite displayed the workout warrior mentality needed to excel at the top of the game–until last year.  Soderling, now listed at 192 lbs., once played at over 230 lbs.  The weight loss has been a career changer for Soderling.  The Swede is lighter on his feet, though not a great mover still and could probably never have slain Nadal on clay, or perhaps ever at all, without having improved quickness to go with his cannon serve, lights out inside-out forehand, and big two handed backhand, that, at Soderling’s height means he has no trouble teeing off on high balls. 

Take a look at the once one-sided head to head:

ATP World Tour, Grand Slam, and Davis Cup Main Draw Results

Year Tournament & City Surface Round Winner & Score
2010 Roland Garros
Clay Q Soderling, Robin
3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 Stats
2009 US Open
NY, U.S.A.
Hard Q Federer, Roger
6-0, 6-3, 6-7(6), 7-6(6) Stats
2009 Wimbledon
Great Britain
Grass R16 Federer, Roger
6-4, 7-6(5), 7-6(5) Stats
2009 Roland Garros
Clay F Federer, Roger
6-1, 7-6(1), 6-4 Stats
2009 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Madrid
Clay R32 Federer, Roger
6-1, 7-5 Stats
2008 ATP Masters Series Paris
Hard R32 Federer, Roger
6-4, 7-6(7) Stats
2008 Wimbledon
Great Britain
Grass R64 Federer, Roger
6-3, 6-4, 7-6(3) Stats
2008 ATP Masters Series Hamburg
Clay R16 Federer, Roger
6-3, 6-2 Stats
2008 ATP Masters Series Miami
FL, U.S.A.
Hard R32 Federer, Roger
6-4, 3-0 RET Stats
2006 ATP Masters Series Madrid
Hard R16 Federer, Roger
7-6(5), 7-6(8) Stats
2005 Halle
Grass R32 Federer, Roger
6-7(5), 7-6(6), 6-4 Stats
2004 Bangkok
Hard Q Federer, Roger
7-6(3), 6-4 Stats
2004 ATP Masters Series Canada
Toronto, Canada
Hard R32 Federer, Roger
7-5, 6-1 Stats

Federer seemed to have a lot of trouble last year with big servers, as his footwork appears to be weakening.  Federer only managed one break of serve–in Roddick’s final service game–during their epic Wimbledon final.  At Roland Garros, Juan Martin Del Potro seemed to have Roger beat, up two sets to one and rolling, because Roger could not get a beat on Del Potro’s serve.  Obviously Del Potro was able to turn the tables on Roger in the Open final last year, coming from 2 sets to one down by serving lights out.

Federer spoke about that match recently, and his comments were candid and surprising.

Opinions about Federer’s supposed fall — premature as they may seem — don’t seem to inspire him as much the memory of last year’s final against del Potro. Federer believes he should have come here as the six-time defending Open champ.

“It was a disappointing loss for me,” Federer said. “I felt like that was one of the finals I should have never lost.”

Roger calling last year’s US Open final “one of the finals I should have never lost”?  From a Roger fan’s perspective over here, the comment rings out.  Roger very rarely does the trip down memory lane thing where he rues a loss, though he must have a few such matches on his short list.  Hopefully, Federer would also put the 2005 Australian semi-final loss to Marat Safin in which he tried a half volley through his legs on match point in that category, as well as his deer in the headlights losses to Rafael Nadal in the French final in 2006 when he blitzed Nadal early and got out to a 6-1 lead, the 2007 French final in which he failed to convert on 18 break chances, and his absolutely terrible loss to Rafa in Melbourne in that fifth setter that forever validated Nadal as a hardcourt player in 2009.

Federer had also said after Wimbledon that the only reason why he lost to Soderling this year at Roland Garros–Soderling’s first ever career win in the series–was due to a leg and back injuries that limited his movement, and chalked up his quarter-final loss in July to Berdych to the back and legs as well.

Soderling–a notoriously free speaker–took extreme exception last year when Nadal cited knee problems after losing his round of 16 clash with the Swede.  Soderling told the press that Nadal displayed poor sportsmanship by blaming the loss on injury, and that if his knee was in such bad shape, he should have defaulted.  But Soderling and Nadal are known to despise each other, while Federer and Soderling seem to have a lot of mutual respect for each other.  Perhaps the Swede doesn’t consider Federer’s remarks insulting because they came so long after his monumentous victory over Roger, and because Roger was gracious in defeat in the moment in Paris.

Federer though, seems to have shaken the injuries he claimed had inhibited him at the last 2 majors.  Roger has ceded serve only once in the tournament so far, and has yet to lose a set at The Open this fortknight.  Plus, one would think Roger would not be boasting about his readiness and calling out Nadal here in Flushing if he didn’t feel like his game was in a good place.  From my perspective, Roger seems to have it going on all cylinders right now.  But the tale will unfold tonight in favor of the guy who can do more than just hold serve.  Though Federer has won clashes on Ashe where managing a break seemed impossible in the past, namely against Roddick one Open final and in one evening quarter-final a few years back, I don’t think that kind of match favors Federer anymore against Soderling.

I like Roger tonight.  I think he will flash that magic footwork of old that we have seen throughout the event from Federer so far, and that Roger turns back the clock to a few years ago when it comes to the Federer-Soderling matchup.  Federer does seem to sight the ball well in the lights on Ashe, he’s let it be known that he’s out for redemption here at Flushing, and that he expects to take home his 6th US Open Championship, which would make him the first player to ever win two separate majors six times.

All that said, even if Soderling does take his lumps tonight, this page believes he has arrived, and that the Swede will be the next player other than Federer or Nadal to win a major championship in singles.

Allez Roger!

–Crack (,