32 Questions

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1. Why today do the immortal words of Red Smith come to mind today? After Bobby Thompson hit his historic ’51 home to lift the New York Giants over the Brooklyn Dodgers Smith wrote, “Now it is done. The art of fiction is dead. Only the utterly implausible, the inexpressibly fantastic can ever be plausible again.”

2. All great tennis champions have suffered shock defeats. Little Michael Chang droped mighty Ivan Lendl at the ’89 French. Little-known Jelena Dokic downed defending champion Martina Hingis in the first round of the ’99 Wimbledon. Becker loses to Doohan at the ’97 Wimby, George Bastl drops Sampras at the ’02 Wimby, U.S. Open, Scanlon drops McEnroe at the ’83 U.S. Open, Stockton beats Borg at the ’77 U.S. Open and Lori McNeil (much to Dan Rather’s chagrin) beats Graf at the ’94 U.S. Open. But even though it was just in the fourth round, was the highly obscure Robin Soderling‘s four-set win over Rafa (with his four straight RG titles and 31 consecutive matches at the French Open with the loss of only four sets) the greatest upset in men’s tennis history?

3. On an even grander scale, sports is crowded with upsets. America’s (“Do You Believe In Miracles”) hockey team downed the mighty Soviet Union in ’80. Buster Douglas out slugged Mike Tyson in ’90 and tiny Cumberland brought Harvard’s mighty football team to it’s knees 6-0 in ’21. So can you put Soderling’s stunning upset into the conversation on the foremost sports upsets in history?

4.Is not the eventuality of loss and defeat for even the mightiest (well, except for Rocky Marciano, the Miami Dolphins et al) one of the most compelling and humanizing things about sport?

5. Is Roger Federer now the happiest man in tennis?

6. So what happens to the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time) debate if Federer goes on to tie the Sampras record of 14 Slam titles and win on clay at RG, the one Slam title that has eluded him? He may well be anointed as the greatest of all time, but some may argue that we will still have to hold off since even though Fed would have at last won the biggest clay court title, it would have been without a win over be Nadal who still holds an imposing record over Fed. (BTW: Mats Wilander said now things are going to get even tighter for Roger, saying that “The pressure before was to give Nadal a good match, now it’s like if you win it now, you’re definitely not considered the best player of all time until you do.” So perhaps in some way Nadal’s departure may put extra pressure on Fed?

7. Why was Nadal, as his coached claimed, nervous throughout the entire match? Was he too aware of the history he was writing?

8. How big a factor was the mental side of Soderling‘s win? Wilander said his fellow Swede is mentally strong and thinks he can beat anyone on any surface. Wilander added, “finally, it’s really nice to see someone stand up to Nadal mentally and not be bothered by anything and let Nadal take his time and not worry about it and be in Rafa’s face a little bit more than the other guys are doing … He was like that against Nalbandian in front of 12,000 screaming Argentines in Davis Cup. He basically doesn’t give a s—. It’s a throw back to the past.”

9. Wilander said all the players don’t stand up to Nadal and they don’t play him the ‘right way’ and do it until the cows come home. Nadal, say Wilander, “wins most of his matches in the first ten minutes, actually in the locker room.” Mats said this Rafa’s intimidation factor was far more than any other player before, even Federer or Sampras. With Pete everyone thought they had a chance with him until four all. There was “no mental battle with Sampras at all, it’s just pain. Jimmy Connors maybe.”

10. What are the odds that Andy Murray will now win RG (and Wimbledon for that matter?)

11. It’s news to us, but is it true that, as Nadal claimed, that fans remember wins not defeats.

12. When was the last time two defending champions lost within an hour of each other like Nadal and Ana Ivanovic did today?

12. Was, as Rafa’s coach Toni Nadal claimed, Soderling’s victory basically decided within the first ten games when the Swede imposed his will?

14. Why didn’t NBC show the Soderling-Nadal match live?

15. Where was the usual-in-your-face Rafa Nadal with his ferocious ‘tude, first strike dominance and why were his shots so short and his sense of urgency so modest.

16. Was it true, as one reporter suggested, that Robin Soderling was sent on a special mission from Sweden to protect Bjorn Borg record of four straight French Opens? BTW: Let us not forget that Federer failed to break Borg’s record of five straight Wimbledons.

17. How weird is it to see Rafa swing in frustration, stumble, trip on his foot and fall off-balanced?

18. Was Rafa tired from playing his usual match-packed pre-Roland Garros grind?

19. Who would have thunk that Nadal would have lost two clay court tournaments in a row?

20. While Soderling was said to be mentally suspect in the past and he suffered a wrist injury and previously only had an 18-21 record on clay, now will his historic win serve as a kind of coming out party?

21. As Wilander suggested, was Soderling’s 6’3″ height a critical factor in subduing Nadal’s usually imposing, high-bouncing forehand?

22. Where has Swedish tennis been all this time? The Swedish tennis cupboards have been so empty that they almost called on ancient Stefan Edberg to play in their Davis Cup tie against Israel (which they lost.)

23. Robin Williams plays hit and giggle fundraisers and shows up on occasion at the U.S. Open. ABC’s Robin Roberts played tennis in college and briefly covered the game. But isn’t San Jose’s Robin White, the former WTA pro, the best “Robin” in the game before Soderling?

24. What are Nadal’s weaknesses on clay: attackable second serve, sometimes too conservative game plan?

25. Just how much did Soderling’s shock win obscure key developments on a busy day: Young Victoria Azarenko’s convincing 6-2, 6-3 win over defending champ Ana Ivanovic (who got dizzy in her match), the dubs win of Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Nadia Petrova over Venus and Serena, “comebacking” Sharapova’s gutsy come from behind win over Na Li, Andy Murray’s first ever run to the RG quarters over Marin Cilic.

26. What are Azarenka’s chances against Safina in the quarters?

27. Does the fact that Sharapova is coming back after such a long break, give her a sense that he is playing with the bank’s money, that there is nothing to lose?
What will Rafa do with all his time off, something he is definitely not used to? He confessed that “right now my preparation [for Wimbledon] is the swimming pool of my house.”

28. They say best thing about a champion is that they know how to play there best at key moments. So unsparing critics might as what happened to Rafa, and in some way did Rafa’s previous dominance on clay and his lack of lengthy, tight matches on the surface in some way hinder him at crunch time?

29. What is Nadal’s strongest physical attribute: Vilas-like legs, Popeye arms or strongest in the game wrists?

30. What’s a more impressive display of dominance: Dinara Safina having lost just five games in four matches so far or Bob Bryan losing just four points in the six games he served in his doubles match today against the Romanians Pavel and
Tecau.

31. What does it say that Soderling lost to Nadal in Rome a month ago 6-1, 6-0.

32. Can you believe that Mats Wilander said Nadal has never played great clay court match?