Tuesday 20 March 2018

Tennis: Soderling's powerplay spells trouble for Federer

Mark Hodgkinson in New York

THERE is a Roger Federer on almost every block of New York City, as it is his image that is on the side of the cars and vans that take the players and their entourages from their Manhattan hotels to Flushing Meadows in the borough of Queens.

Federer did not look so grand at the European grand slams this summer, when he lost in the quarter-finals of the French Open and Wimbledon, but the Americans still rightly regard him as the man to beat on the fast concrete of the US Open.

And, along the freeway towards the tennis, you cannot avoid him on one of the enormous advertising billboards facing the traffic. Federer is on the side of your ride to the US Open; look out of the window and there he is again.

The Swiss played in the past six US Open finals, winning five of them in succession. His only defeat came last season, when he lost a five-setter to Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro. With Del Potro unable to compete this year because of injury, this still feels very much like Federer's tournament, and Federer's town, but if he is to reach another final he must fend off Robin Soderling in the last eight.

There is a danger, against Soderling, that Federer could become what he never wanted to be: a serial beaten quarter-finalist at the slams. If Federer were to lose to the Swede, that would be a trend, and the closest he would get to the prize-giving weekend would be on the paintwork of the cars taking the remaining players out to the courts.

In Paris and London, Federer did not look at all comfortable against opponents welting the ball. It was Soderling, who strikes his forehand with an ungodly power, who beat the Swiss in the quarter-finals on the clay of Roland Garros, a result which ended Federer's remarkable sequence of having reached the semi-finals or better at 23 consecutive slams.

Then at Wimbledon, the powerful Czech player, Tomas Berdych, took a similarly aggressive approach against Federer, roughing him up.

Though Federer is yet to drop a set in this tournament, after a 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 victory over Austria's Jurgen Melzer that included a couple of lucky net-cords in the second-set tie-break, it is unlikely he will have everything his own way against Soderling, world No 5 and twice French Open runner-up.

"I expect it to be really tough, especially now that he's gotten a taste of how to beat me," said Federer. "It's up to me to clean up my game and put in a good performance.

"He's been able to string together a few good years now on the tour. Before, he was very good already, but he was a bit up and down. Maybe that's also maybe why his ranking was a bit lower. Now he is playing really well."

As for his own plans against Soderling, Federer was clear.

"Like against any big server you try to read the serve, get into good baseline rallies, try to move him around, just play a solid match and have no hiccups on your own serve. I've been able to do that 12 times out of 13. So it's a matter up to me now if I can do it again." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

US Open, Live, Sky Sports 2, 4.0

Irish Independent

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