Roland Garros Notebook

Back on the same stage with raised stakes.

Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open (photo credit: AP Photo/Andrew Brownbill)
Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open
(photo credit: AP Photo/Andrew Brownbill)
It was just a year ago that Robin Soderling recorded one of the biggest upsets in tennis history by beating Rafael Nadal in the fourth round at Roland Garros.
On Sunday, the two meet again at the Philippe Chatrier Court, but almost everything else has seemingly changed.
The fact that they will be playing for the French Open title clearly gives the match an entirely different complexion, but the biggest difference from last year will be the standing of each player entering the encounter.
When Nadal played the Swede last year he was still unbeaten at RolandGarros. The Spaniard was the four-time defending champion and was sodominant on the red surface that he left some experts wondering if hewill ever be beaten at this tournament.
Soderling, on the other hand, was mainly regarded as an unfulfilledpotential. He was ranked No. 25 in the world and had several smalltitles to his name, but at the age of 24 there were more and morequestions being raised regarding whether he will ever develop into thenext great Swedish champion.
All of that changed on May 31, 2009.
Soderling stunned the world of tennis by handing Nadal his first losson the Paris clay and despite losing in the final to Roger Federer, hada strong finish to the year and ended 2009 as the world No. 8.
The first six months of 2010 were far from impressive for Soderling,who suffered some humbling defeats, including in the first round of theAustralian Open.
However, everything seemed to fall into place when he arrived in Paris,and after ending Federer’s Grand Slam semifinal streak at 23 with a winin the quarterfinals, the Swede came through five tough sets againstTomas Berdych on Friday to reach his second straight final.
While Soderling finally realized his promise, Nadal went through the toughest year of his life.
After falling to Soderling in Paris, the now 24-year-old missedWimbledon through injury and went almost a year without winning a title.
However, Nadal was like a fish in the water once this year’s clay courtseason came around, returning to his old dominating self.
Nadal is a perfect 15-0 on clay in 2010, losing just two sets on his way to three consecutive titles heading into Roland Garros.
There has also been nothing to suggest anyone would be able to beat himin the past couple of weeks, with the Majorcan yet to lose a set in theFrench capital.
However, Soderling poses a unique challenge for Nadal.
The Swede is one of only a few players in the world who can take onNadal’s spin and flatten the ball with sheer power. When he serves welland takes the ball early, Soderling is a real threat to Nadal.
This will, however, be the first time the two meet in a Grand Slam final, an occasion at which Nadal is far more experienced.
The Spaniard has six Grand Slam titles from eight finals compared toSoderling, who lost his only appearance in a final to date in Parislast year.
So much has happened in the year that has passed since they last met onclay. Nadal may still be the favorite, but not in the way he was 12months ago.
Soderling will have to come up with his best when it matters most to have a chance, but can he do it?
Will Nadal maintain his flawless record on clay this year and joinBjorn Borg as the only men to win five or more Roland Garros titles?
These and many more questions will all be answered on Sunday in what promises to be a scintillating affair.