Sunday May 31st, 2009

SI.com caught up with Jon Wertheim to get his impressions of No. 23 seed Robin Soderling's stunning upset of No. 1 Rafael Nadal at the French Open.

SI.com: When was the last upset of this magnitude?

Jon Wertheim: You'd really have to go pretty far back. This is the first time he has lost at the French Open ever. And to lose to a guy who is a good player, but who isn't one of the top seeds or anything like that, this was pretty stunning.

What happened to Nadal out there?

JW: The guy just took the match to Nadal. You're not going to beat him in a track meet, but if you look at the match stats, this guy just went for broke. He made a lot of winners, he made a lot of errors, too. And I think it's an interesting strategy for playing Nadal. But it's one people are going to pick up on, which is, you're not going to grind it out with him, you just have to be aggressive and if you miss, you miss. But I've never seen Nadal come out on the short end of winners like he did.

SI.com: Who is Robin Soderling?

JW: He's a Swedish vet -- he's been around for a while -- who actually played Nadal in Wimbledon a few years ago. He's one of these skilled guys who has a ton of talent but can't always bring it mentally. He's one of these guys who, when he's on, he can beat anyone, and when he's not, he can lose to anyone. He barely made it out of his last match and he just played out of his mind today.

It's interesting because he's one guy Nadal doesn't really like personally, which is saying something because Nadal likes just about everyone. He's one of the few guys Nadal had some beef with in the past, and I wonder if that didn't play into Nadal's mindset a little bit because it was personal. Usually Nadal is a very respectful player on the other side of the net. But Soderling is one of the few guys he has an issue with. So I wonder if that played into Nadal's thinking a little bit.

SI.com: What's the story behind their contentious relationship?

JW: When they played at Wimbledon in 2007, Soderling was mocking Nadal's mannerism and he had some unflattering things to say about Nadal afterwards. He was sort of mocking Nadal's habits. You don't really do what Soderling did, considering how good Nadal is.

But Nadal, afterwards, basically said this guy will have to justify for this in the afterlife. He basically said this guy was doomed to hell, which is sort of a weird thing to say, but particularly for Nadal, who pretty much goes out of his way to say nice things about everyone. So I do wonder -- and this is the kind of thing players will never admit to -- but I do wonder if the personal history had anything to do with Nadal not having it today

SI.com: Is this a blueprint for how to beat Nadal?

JW: Yeah, everyone who faces Nadal says, "I have to go out there and be aggressive," and then very few can stick to that game plan. It takes a special performance to beat Nadal anytime, but especially on clay. But you basically just try to hit through the guy, and if you miss, you miss. You're not going to grind him out. But Soderling, he just took it to him today.

SI.com: Is Soderling a guy who could be a threat going forth in the Open, or was this a fluke win?

JW: He's been around awhile, and honestly, he's the kind of guy who could go out and lose his next match. You don't get the feeling this was "the extension of Robin Soderling." You just kind of getting the feeling he's like lightning in a bottle.

The really interesting thing now is if he can beat Roger Federer. There's a ton of pressure on Federer now. This is this one Grand Slam he's never won, the one title that would really kind of seal it for him. Here it is, the middle weekend, and his top two competitors are out of the draw. It's really easy to say this is sort of his tournament to lose, but on the other hand, but if somehow he doesn't do it, I think it could really haunt him because this is a pretty golden opportunity.

SI.com: What now for Nadal?

JW: Nadal's never lost a match in this tournament. We'll see what happens next week, but this was certainly a stunning upset.

He's lost his last two tournaments -- both on clay. It's not exactly panic time, and he's still No. 1, but it certainly makes Wimbledon a lot more interesting. It's been a long time since entered the grass-court season on a losing streak. But that's why we like sports.

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