Commentary

No secrets between Federer, Soderling

Updated: September 8, 2010, 9:54 AM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- The drumbeat began nearly two weeks ago.

"Everybody has been telling me since the draw came out I'm going against Roger in the quarters," Robin Soderling said last Saturday. "He still needs to win two more matches, and I still have to win one more. It's still far ahead."

Well, that's a nice sentiment, but no one was terribly surprised when the No. 2-seeded Roger Federer and the No. 5-seeded Soderling reached the quarters here. That purely theoretical match is now a reality and Wednesday night the two will meet for the fifth time in the past seven Grand Slam events.

Since the 26-year-old Swede's emotional game stabilized and his fast, flat shots began to find the court more consistently, he's been seeing a lot of Federer.

"I don't think there's any really hidden secrets for both of us," Federer said Monday night after beating Jurgen Melzer. "Like against any big server, [I'm] trying to read the serve, get into good baseline rallies, try to move him around, just play a solid match and have no hiccup 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."

It's not bragging if it's a fact, right? Federer has won a dozen of their 13 matches, but that one exception is a huge asterisk hanging in the tepid air here at the National Tennis Center.

[+] EnlargeRobin Soderling
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesRobin Soderling is just 1-12 versus Roger Federer, but that win came in their last match, in Paris.

Soderling, memorably, ushered the defending French Open champion to the exit in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros -- the same spot in which he finds himself three months later. Soderling lost the first set in Paris, but rallied to win in four.

"Obviously toughest conditions for both players playing on a wet clay when it rains," Federer said. "That is what we had in the last match. No excuses there, but it's just tough conditions to play in. I expect it to be really tough, especially that he's gotten a taste of how to beat me."

That taste is what drives Soderling, who beat Rafael Nadal in the fourth round at Roland Garros in 2009 -- a match that remains the only one (out of 39) that Rafa has lost there in his career.

"I think it's always a very nice feeling to play against the world's best," Soderling said. "It's matches like that you train for. It's matches like that I've been dreaming of playing since I started playing tennis, playing at the big courts in the big tournaments.

"It's very fun."

Especially now that he's winning.

Soderling and Juan Martin del Potro are the only men ever to have beaten both Federer and Nadal in a Grand Slam. Del Potro took them down at last year's U.S. Open on the way to his first major title, beating Federer in the final. Soderling is the only one to catch them both when they were ranked No. 1.

The turning point for Soderling may have come at last year's U.S. Open after he lost the first two sets of their quarterfinal match. Instead of checking out like so many opponents in an 0-2 hole, Soderling dug in and split two tiebreakers.

Part of Federer's greatness is understanding his opponents, their strengths and weaknesses, intimately. This is how he broke down Soderling's recently developed, even-keel approach:

"Maybe he's more calm on the court now. Maybe he doesn't see all the other opponents as enemies. Maybe he realizes that the tour is not all that bad as it once was. I don't think he was enjoying it as much a few years ago. Who knows, maybe his girlfriend [Jenni Mostrom] also calmed him down, the whole deal.

"Little things can have a huge impact. Just growing up, too. Took me a long time to figure out that staying calm was going to be better for my game than not. I realized that only about at 20 years old. A long time coming sometimes."

A win Wednesday would be very, very fun. Soderling would move to No. 4 in the ATP World Tour rankings -- a career high -- and a title here could propel him to No. 2.

"I'm pretty sure how I need to play to have a chance to win," Soderling said.

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.