Given the weather that has been battering Britain for the last week, perhaps it was no surprise that lightning struck twice in London yesterday. Six months after Robin Soderling stunned the sporting world with his victory at the French Open over Rafael Nadal, who had never lost in 31 previous matches at Roland Garros, the Swede beat the Spaniard again in the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena.
The fact that Soderling's 6-4, 6-4 victory was no major surprise tells you much about what has happened since their meeting on Parisian clay. Nadal, who took more than two months off after that defeat because of tendinitis in both knees, has not won a title since early May, while Soderling's career has taken off.
Nadal, who can still qualify for the semi-finals despite this defeat, insists that he is currently at the top of his game, pointing out that he has been enjoying the most successful autumn of his career.
While it is true that the Spaniard usually falters at this stage of the season, he still appears a long way short of the form that took him to No 1 in the world rankings last year. He repeatedly denies that he has lost weight – he says that is an illusion caused by the ditching of his trademark sleeveless shirts – but he looks less intimidating physically and his shots seem to lack their former bite.
A powerful man with a booming serve and thumping ground strokes, Soderling took the initiative from the start, racing into a 3-0 lead. Nadal broke back immediately, but at 4-5 put a forehand long on the Swede's first set point. Although Nadal made the first break in the second set, Soderling quickly restored parity and secured victory when he again broke as the Spaniard served at 4-5.
"I played OK, but in the important moments, I didn't have the necessary calm," Nadal said afterwards. "I made a few mistakes. I played shorter in the important moments and that was why he beat me. He's a big player on this surface."
Asked what he felt was lacking in his game, Nadal replied: "I think I must have said this 100 times. The second half of the year was difficult for me and I probably lost a little confidence and calm, but I am working really hard to come back at my best level. I think I'm not far away from my best."
Soderling is making his debut at the year-end finale and his face does not even appear on the posters at the entrance to the O2 Arena. The world No 9 was awarded a place in the field last week when Andy Roddick pulled out with injury.
Until his win over Nadal in Paris Soderling was regarded as a journeymen, though he has always performed well indoors. He reached the French Open final, losing to Roger Federer, and then improved on his previous best performances at Wimbledon and the US Open, reaching the fourth round and quarter-finals respectively. He has reached the last eight or better at his last six tournaments.
"I was hitting the ball well today," Soderling said. "I think that's how I have to play against Rafa to have a chance of beating him. It's tough to keep on playing these long rallies every time, because he's a great fighter and moves really well."
Nikolay Davydenko threatened to produce an upset in the day's second match when he took the first set off Novak Djokovic, but the world No 3 recovered to win 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 after two hours and 46 minutes. Djokovic, who beat Davydenko to win the title in Shanghai last year, has lost only once in the 20 matches he has played since the US Open.Reuse content