Monday November 15th, 2010

1. Rockin' Robin: Rafael Nadal may own Paris, But Robin Soderling is undertaking a fine land grab of his own. The hard-hitting Swede has, of course, reached the Roland Garros final in both 2009 and '10. And he added to his Gallic success last weekend, marrying his flat, pace-laced game on the greased lightning courts of Bercy to his first TMS/ATP 1000 series title. Soderling's run included a dramatic semifinal win over Michael Llodra -- in which he salvaged match points -- and a demolition of Gael Monfils in the final. What did Soderling get out of the deal? Nearly $400,000, a snazzy new ranking of No. 4, a ration of momentum heading into the London year-end event ... and the ugliest trophy known to man.

2. Point of concern: For all the impressive statistics Roger Federer has posted over the last decade, here's one he doubtless does not cherish. Last Saturday in Paris. Federer lost to Gael Monfils, squandering five match points in the process. ("I went to the limits of myself," Monfils said afterward, sounding not a little like a French existentialist.) For Federer this was, astonishingly, the fourth match this year that he's lost after being a point from victory. What does this say? Maybe it's not Federer's tennis nor his body that's betrayed him a bit this year*, so much as it's his mind/heart, an issue that plagued him at the beginning of his career? It's jarring to see the most decorated player in the sport's history fail to close out matches. On the other hand, it's better than a physical breakdown like this.

* Note that we're trafficking in Federer standards here; for most players, he still turned in a career year.

3. Exo, exo: The WTA finished its season before Halloween, a rare victory for common sense and compromise. The men's game is down to one more event -- implicating only eight singles players -- and then the Davis Cup finale. Which means that Exhibition Season is upon us. Sure, "hit and giggles" have gotten a bad rap through the years, more entertainment than competition. But we'd do well to think of it an endearing quirk of tennis. For a few weeks, players make like comics or heavy metal bands or Ice Capaders and thread through the hinterlands, stopping in Omaha or Raleigh for a night. Especially with so many American tournaments moving off-shore, for a lot of fans this marks a rare opportunity to see live tennis. While the players don't go at "tournament speed," there's still plenty of shotmaking and talent on display. There's usually a charitable component to these matches. All in all, it's a force of good.

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