It’s that time of year again. It’s the week of Båstad, an obscure ATP 250 event in Sweden that would be an afterthought to me if it weren’t linked so strongly in my mind with Robin Söderling, who has been absent from the ATP Tour for two years now with mono, since playing his last match there in 2011.
At the time when then-ranked World No. 5 Söderling disappeared, he was one of my favorite players. I probably watched every one of his matches that year. I still fondly remember the dumb white and blue shirt with the weird neckline he wore for what felt like half that year.
After a puzzling early loss to Bernard Tomic at Wimbledon, I was happy when he made it to the final in Båstad. I was in New England at the time, visiting relatives, but I watched the final he played against David Ferrer streaming on my phone as I rode the Amtrak home to Philadelphia. It was a spotty feed, but Söderling demolished Ferrer, and it felt like he was invincible. And then he was gone.
I don’t know if he’ll return, but I spend a few minutes every few weeks thinking about him. I do a Google news search to see if there is any news about his progress. I watch some old clips on YouTube, and marvel at the power he could generate off both wings in his open stance. I’m sure watching the highlights makes him seem better than he actually was, but they always leave me wondering, “what if?”
But this isn’t a post about what-ifs. This is a post about Robin Söderling’s last match, his hometown final in Båstad against David Ferrer.
By the second point of the match, you could tell that Ferrer was in for a long day, when he lost this exquisitely-defended point:
Söderling broke straight away on a Ferrer backhand pushed wide. He punished Ferrer with brutally well-struck, down-the-line shots.
He used his big, loopy forehand to take a 3-1 lead.
On Ferrer’s first service point, Söderling showed off his touch at the net.
Ferrer was in danger once again at 0-30 as Söderling bossed him around the court at will.
Ferrer managed a hold of serve, and Söderling held easily for 4-2 with a big serve.
Söderling hit a strong return on the way to earning another break point:
And he caught Ferrer off-guard to break for 5-2.
Söderling took the first set, 6-2, off an unreturnable serve.
This inside-out backhand he hit to start the second set leaves me speechless:
He broke for 1-0 on a wide forehand from Ferrer. Remember that fist pump?
He took the ball early, never afraid to hit down-the-line.
Söderling showed composure at the net, improvising well, and breaking for 3-0.
He held for 4-0, and had several break points to go up 5-0, but Ferrer saved them all. Buoyed by coming out of a long service game with a crucial hold, Ferrer broke for 2-4 on a long Söderling forehand.
However, Ferrer was in further trouble in his next service game. Söderling’s powerful ball-striking was too hard to neutralize. He broke for 5-2. He would serve for the match.
It was a routine service hold for Söderling. He was in the clear.
This is the last point that he ever played, ending appropriately on a huge forehand that didn’t come back, complete with a big smile and a fist pump:
It’s a story that can’t be summed up neatly. I don’t know if we’ll ever see Robin Söderling on a tennis court again. If we never do, I’ll always think of what could’ve been. But we’ll always have those French Open finals, the Paris Masters title, and this hometown win in his very last tournament.
And if he does come back, he’s riding a nice win streak.