Swedish champions used to be as common as British first-round losers here, but the nation that produced Bjorn Borg, Stefan Edberg and Mats Wilander has a lone standard-bearer these days. Robin Soderling is the only Swedish man in the world's top 300, and for the second year in succession is his country's lone representative in the men's singles.
Borg has tipped the 25-year-old world No 6 as a future world No 1 and he is emerging as a major contender at Wimbledon. He has yet to drop a set, and yesterday beat Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil 6-4 6-2 7-5. He will play David Ferrer in tomorrow's fourth round.
Soderling was regarded as little more than a journeyman until his remarkable victory over Rafael Nadal in the fourth round of last year's French Open, the Spaniard's first defeat in 32 matches at Roland Garros. Soderling, the world No 25 at the time, went on to reach the final, which he lost to Roger Federer.
Although he had the misfortune to run into Federer again at Wimbledon and the US Open, Soderling made the elite eight-man field for the World Tour Finals in London, where he beat Nadal and Novak Djokovic before losing to Juan Martin del Potro.
This year Soderling made the semi-finals at the Masters Series events in Indian Wells and Miami and reached the French Open final. He beat Federer at Roland Garros, ending the Swiss's record-breaking run of 23 consecutive Grand Slam semi-finals, but lost to Nadal in straight sets in the final. Having broken into the world's top 10 last October, he is now at a career high.
"My confidence is good," he said. "I think I've been playing really well for a year, or almost a year and a half now, beating a lot of good players in big matches and in big tournaments."
Soderling's game is highly effective. At 6ft 4in and nearly 14st, he hits with power on his serve and in his ground- strokes. There is little subtlety about his ball-striking, but there is no doubt about the weight of his shots.
There was a time when indoor courts brought the best out of him – he has won only one title outdoors – but taking Nadal to five sets here three years ago gave him confidence on grass and he enjoyed his best Wimbledon run last year, when he made the fourth round. Should he reach next Sunday's final he would be the first Swede to do so since Edberg won the title 20 years ago.
Bellucci, who is at a career-high No 24, is at his best on clay and rarely looked capable of threatening Soderling. The Swede, who beat Robby Ginepri and Marcel Granollers in his first two matches, was often happy to play a patient game. When Bellucci served at 4-5 and 30-30 Soderling kept making his opponent play. Two forehand errors and the first set followed.
When Bellucci missed a backhand to give Soderling his first break in the second set the Brazilian hurled his racket to the ground. When he later kicked a ball away in anger he was fortunate that it just missed a line judge. Soderling was also fired up, but his passion manifested itself in chest-beating or clenched-fist celebrations.
Bellucci's only break points came when Soderling served at 5-5 in the third set, and in fending them off the Swede appeared to break his spirit. In the following game Soderling secured victory on his second match-point when Bellucci hit a backhand long.
"I've played against three really good players and I haven't dropped a set yet, though I was maybe a little bit lucky to win the third set today," Soderling said. "I'm serving well. I'm hitting the ball well. I'm feeling really good."
How has he coped with Borg's prediction that he will reach the top?
"Of course it's nice to hear," Soderling said. "He's a legend. I think everybody knows that he knows what he's talking about. He was at the top of this game for so long. But I still have to do it. It won't happen because he says that. I still have to work hard, but if I stay healthy and play like this I think I have a chance."Reuse content