At least the omens are good for Tim Henman. Robin Soderling's last appearance at Wimbledon ended at the third-round stage when he lost to a Briton. The opponent then, two years ago, albeit in the junior tournament, was one Ken Skupski. In truth, Britain's No 1 should not have to rely on such signs against a little-known player ranked 152 in the world, in his second year as a professional, and who, on Saturday, will be playing only his fifth match in a Grand Slam event.
To judge from the way the Swede's opponent yesterday, the fellow qualifier Gilles Elseneer, burned through the first set in under 20 minutes it is astonishing that the 18-year-old progressed at all. Soderling was also 5-1 down in the second set tie break, having blown a five games to two lead against the solid, if unspectacular, Belgian, who appeared to relax a little too much as he sensed victory.
But Henman beware. Instead of capitulating, Soderling, who rose 400 places in the rankings in his first year, showed huge reserves of mental strength, and an eye-catching ability for thumping forehand winners, to turn an entertaining match around.
The highlight was a 27-shot rally, with set point against in that tie-break, which Soderling won at the net with a deft volley. He then closed out with the aid of two unforced errors by his despairing, more experienced opponent and forced the advantage by immediately breaking serve in the next set, as he also did in the fourth.
He was the model of Swedish efficiency, and sang-froid, and easily prevailed despite winning fewer points than his opponent (112-111), achieving a much lower percentage of first serves, plus fewer aces and more double faults. Soderling's serve was clearly vulnerable, although, when successful, he moved to the net swiftly and with great effect.
This 2-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-3 win followed a four-set match in the first round when he comfortably beat the uncomfortable 21st seed, Martin Verkerk, a recent finalist at Roland Garros.
Despite his lack of experience, the 6ft 2in Soderling professed a liking for grass. "It's not that fast, as I expected it to be. It suits me well," he said, displaying that calmness off the court as well as on it. As for his next opponent, Soderling said that, although there were "easier draws", it "doesn't bother me". It is that temperament which may prove to be his most dangerous weapon.Reuse content