His Davis Cup by BNP Paribas debut apart, only the name of David Nalbandian blights Robin Soderling’s singles record in this competition, so it was an unenviable task facing Fabio Fognini on the opening day of the World Group Play-off between Sweden and Italy in Lidkoping.
It doesn’t always happen in Davis Cup that discrepancy in class is made so obvious, but it was here as Soderling showed the Italian No. 2 what is required if he should nurture dreams of cracking the world’s top five one day. It took a man who once blew the likes of Rafael Nadal off court just one hour and 13 minutes to make the 66-place difference in their rankings tell as he won 61 63 62 to square this tie.
It was hard to imagine anyone living with Soderling in this form – and even harder to imagine anyone beating him in straight sets as Roger Federer only recently did in New York. His bludgeoning forehand was only overshadowed by his withering serve. And to think he reckoned he could have been more aggressive! “I also had some opportunities coming to the net which I didn’t do, but I cannot complain.” Indeed he can’t.
No wonder his captain, Thomas Enqvist, was beaming the widest of smiles afterwards. “You sit there on the bench and you’re just so excited to watch it – a fantastic match from Robin today. He played with this power, with this force and with absolutely no mistakes. When he plays like this there are not many players in the world who have a chance [against him].”
Enqvist: Soderling will win a Grand Slam
Furthermore, he predicted that Soderling will eventually become a Grand Slam champion: so far he has two runner-up finishes at the French Open to his credit. “There’s a lot of good players out there,” said Enqvist. “It’s going to be difficult for him, but he definitely has the level. He’s so hungry. I’m definitely confident he can win a few Slams.”
One would have thought that five sets against the fury that is Fernando Verdasco in New York a couple of weeks ago would have prepared Fognini for the onslaught that awaited him here, but not a bit of it. He had to risk all just to get a few points on the board. The poor man was a picture of despair. It may be a small consolation to him to hear that Soderling finished off an opponent even quicker at Roland Garros this year – the American Taylor Dent.
The upshot is that Soderling is fresh enough to play the doubles on Saturday if required. Enqvist made out a good case for not disturbing his chosen team of Robert Lindstedt and Simon Aspelin, who have been in good form recently and have been practising solidly all week. Soderling concurred. ”We have two great doubles players who are playing really well so I don’t see any reason to change that,” he said.
Early lead for Italy
Soderling’s performance did not bode well for Potito Starace, whom he faces in the reverse singles on Sunday. By comparison, the Italian No. 1 was positively sluggish in beating Andreas Vinciguerra 62 62 62 in one hour and 44 minutes. If he was feeling good about himself - as he was entitled to – he was feeling less so after Soderling’s blitz: Starace was beaten in straight sets a week ago by Fognini in the final of a Challenger in Genova, so what chance does he have against Soderling?
There was a similar gap in quality between Starace and Vinciguerra as there later was between Soderling and Fognini and that was because the 29-year-old Swede, who nine years ago reached the semifinals of the Italian Open, no longer plays top level tennis. But credit Starace for making the most of his advantage. He quickly made himself at home in the newly built Sparbanken Lidkoping Arena, breaking Vinciguerra in the opening game and never looked back. With the Swedish No. 2 at odds with his forehand he got few chances to hit back and he was broken again in the seventh game thanks to two double faults before Starace held to take the set.
Italy’s travelling fans may be small in number but they gave their man all the support he could have wished for – some of them hailing from Naples close to where Starace was born. Another early break in the second set ensured Starace’s firm grip on the match would not be released and long before the third set was over Vinciquerra was reduced to thumping the court with his racket in frustration at what he was no longer capable of doing. The son of an Italian pizza baker, he got a good grilling here.