Next step beckons for champion-slayer Soderling at Melbourne Park

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MELBOURNE: Big-hitting Robin Soderling’s aggression has taken him to the verge of two Grand Slam triumphs, but adopting the stereotypical “cool Swede” demeanour may be key to him going from champion-slayer to champion at the Australian Open.

The baseline pounder with a thunderbolt serve revels in attack and holds little fear of the likes of Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, both of whom he crushed on Roland Garros clay on the way to successive finals at the French Open.

However, that those same players defeated him easily for the titles, Federer in 2009 and Nadal last year, showed the Swede’s high-octane game can be blunted by patient, defensive players.

The 26-year-old will bid to become his country’s first Grand Slam champion since Thomas Johansson bolted to the 2002 Australian Open title, but has performed abysmally at the tournament Swedish greats Stefan Edberg and Mats Wilander dominated in the 1980s.

Soderling may have something of Wilander’s baseline firepower and Edberg’s height, but he could do with a dose of their steely temperament when they were in their prime.

After a break-out season in 2009, Soderling was tipped as a dark horse last year but blew a two-set lead on the way to a first-round defeat by then-113th-ranked Spaniard Marcel Granollers.

The early exit capped a miserable preparation for the Swede, who carried an elbow complaint into the season and was bundled out of the first round at a warmup in Chennai.

Soderling’s preparations have been far sunnier this year, with a straight-sets win over former U.S. Open champion Andy Roddick to clinch the Brisbane International.

Roddick, no stranger to temper tantrums and big serving, was suitably impressed with Soderling’s rockets.

“I’m normally at the other side and it’s better on that end of the serve,” he said.

CONFIDENCE

The win gave Soderling his seventh professional title and also elevated him to the fourth ranking above Briton Andy Murray, a player he could well meet in a mouthwatering quarter-final.

“I’m playing really well and what makes me really happy is I never really played well in Australia before,” said Soderling, who has never been past the second round at Melbourne Park.

“I didn’t have the results here and now finally I have won a tournament playing really good tennis, which makes me really happy. It gives me a lot of confidence for Melbourne.”

While Soderling might seem like a man in a hurry, the Swede has had to draw on a reservoir of patience to rise to the top, and managed only four titles in his first nine years.

Born in the small town of Tibro, Soderling took bike rides through bitter Sweden winters to get to practice, and was noted by coaches as determined and fearless before his teen years.

He enjoyed precious little success early on the tour, and only raised eyebrows for annoying Nadal during a five-set marathon at Wimbledon in 2007, when he mocked the Spaniard’s short-tugging habit.

Two years later he announced himself in emphatic style, beating the Spaniard at his beloved French Open in 2009, the fourth-round victory breaking Nadal’s unbeaten 31-match run at Roland Garros.

Soderling continued the role of giant-killer by defeating Federer in the quarterfinal last year, ending the Swiss’s run of 23 consecutive Grand Slam semi-finals.

He made the last eight at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open before clinching his first Masters series tournament in Paris to finish his best season to date and earn high praise from another Swedish great.

“Soderling has improved a lot of things in his game,” said 11-times Grand Slam champion Bjorn Borg.

“He’s ready to win a Grand Slam tournament. He’s always going to be one of the favourites to win.”

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This post was submitted by Mudit Agrawal.

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