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2009 BMW Tennis Championship: A Stepping Stone for Robin Soderling

Posted on March 02, 2010 by Rob York
The 2009 BMW Tournament was a breakout event for Robin Soderling.

The 2009 BMW Tournament was a breakout event for Robin Soderling.

Tomas Berdych and Robin Soderling are both representative players of the current generation on the ATP Tour.

First, there’s their common height and bulk: the Swede Soderling is listed at 6’4” and 192 pounds on the ATP Tour Web site, while Berdych is listed at 6’5” and 200 pounds.

Secondly, we have their game plans: The 25-year-old Soderling and the 24-year-old Berdych both serve big and hit hard off both wings, and like so many players today the centerpieces of their games are big forehands. The Czech’s is a bit flatter, and the Swede’s requires a bit more backswing, but both men are rightly considered to be among the hardest hitters around.

And by the time the two met in the finals of the BMW Tennis Championship last March, they could be considered to be in a similar phase in their careers. Soderling had broken through in 2003 by reaching his first tour final and the third round of Wimbledon, while Berdych’s big intro was in 2004, when he won his first title and beat Roger Federer at the Olympics.

Despite their early promise, however, their results were stagnant, with Berdych winning just four titles by early ’09 and Soderling only three. Their games had come to be known for one-dimensional power hitting, and both were struggling just to win matches in the early goings of ’09.

Berdych had pushed Federer to five sets at the Australian Open, and then won only one more match. Soderling took a 4-5 record into the event, and had to go through qualifying just to make the main draw of this unique event.

At the end of the week, the two players of such similarities had taken rather different roads to the final: Soderling had been required to win seven matches, beating streaky but notable threats Gilles Muller of Luxemburg and Spaniard Feliciano Lopez in straights, and barely overcoming former world No. 5 Rainer Schuettler of Germany. Top seed Berdych had dropped one set in four matches but not been severely tested, drubbing Janko Tipsarevic in the semis.

So what happened to Berdych on finals day? Did he not bring his best game with him, or was Soderling’s – after seven matches of preparation – running too smoothly? Whatever the story, the Swede walked away with an upset victory, in a surprisingly easy 6-1, 6-1 result.

And the result set the tone for the rest of the year: Berdych added one title to his résumé in Munich but had an otherwise lackluster year, getting no further than the fourth round of any Grand Slam event and going 1-9 against top 10 opponents. Two months after the BMW, Soderling pulled off the biggest upset of the year – and maybe in tennis history – when he stopped world No. 1 and four-time defending champion Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.

Two months after winning the BMW, Soderling made the finals of the French Open.

Two months after winning the BMW, Soderling made the finals of the French Open.

He rode that momentum all the way to the finals of that major before falling to Federer. By the end of the year, he had added a tourney title, victories over Nadal (again), Novak Djokovic, and Nikolay Davydenko (three times last year and one in 2010). He finished the year at a career-best No. 8, qualifying for the World Tour Finals in London.

Even in winning last year’s BMW, Soderling could never have predicted the year that would may ahead following this turning point. And that’s the beauty of the event: Though not one of the game’s better-known tournaments, it offers top-flight competition a surge in confidence for the winner.

This year’s event, starting March 14, is set to field competitors including well-known players in search of a boost, including Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny, Spain’s Nicolas Almagro, Croatia’s Mario Ancic and the Frenchmen Richard Gasquet and Gilles Simon. Youth will also be served in players like Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil, seeking to give his young career a kick-start.

Then again, maybe it will be a player none of us have thought of, who will use this event to position himself for big results later in the season.

If so, it’d be the second year in a row.

Check the tournament out on the WebFacebook and Twitter.

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