Federer-Soderling: On the eve of his leap into fame, Soderling won one solitary game from Nadal at the 2009 Masters in Rome.  As Rafaholics from Mallorca to Mindanao know all too well, a different narrative unfolded when the Swede met the Spaniard a few weeks later at Roland Garros.  Having collected just two games from Federer in a hideous Shanghai quarterfinal, Soderling faces a parallel situation to the task that confronted him during last year’s clay season.   Before the Shanghai disaster, the world #4 fell to Federer in three largely routine sets at the US Open.  Still an enigmatic competitor, Soderling allowed squandered early opportunities and adverse weather conditions to poison his mood on that occasion.  Here, his serve rebounded ominously against Ferrer following a limp, two-ace loss to Murray, and the lanky Swede has adjusted to the low bounce better than one might have expected.  Ever a formidable foe indoors, he overcame Djokovic, Nadal, and nearly Del Potro in his World Tour Finals debut last year.

Yet he must significantly elevate his level in order to trouble Federer, who has proven himself the most impressive player of the week so far.  Atop a crest of confidence after battering Murray into submission, the Swiss has dropped just eleven games in London and only one on his serve.  Similar brilliance characterized his weeks in Shanghai and Paris, however, until his game dipped unpredictably at those Masters events.  Could a routine triumph over a familiar nemesis lure him into complacency and fuel another unforeseen dip?  Although Soderling could advance without a victory if certain improbable circumstances fall in his favor, the Swede isn’t a man to let others decide his fate for him.  His best chance against Federer lies in snatching the racket out of Roger’s hands with aggressive second serves, opportunistic returns, and redirecting the ball whenever possible.  If he does hammer his way into a lead, he must guard it more scrupulously than he did against Ferrer, who nearly scampered away with the second set after trailing 2-5. In that regard, Soderling could learn from Federer and the ease with which he extinguished Murray’s lone spark late in the first set of their encounter.  The education of Robin continues on Friday.

Murray-Ferrer:  Reeling from an embarrassing loss to Federer in his home nation, Murray must collect himself a bit faster than he did after his previous stumble against the Swiss.  Even if Soderling fails to score the upset, the Scot could settle into the same uncomfortable position that he occupied last year, awaiting the decision of a calculator on a three-way tie for group runner-up.  Inspiring British fans with hope is Murray’s resolute performance against Soderling, which featured no fewer than ten aces and uncharacteristically bold ball-striking.  His past history against Ferrer deceives the casual viewer, for all three of his losses came on the Spaniard’s favorite surface (and Murray’s least favorite):  clay.  Although they played on hard courts four years ago, both players have evolved significantly since then, so this match resembles a first meeting.  Relying upon unimaginative baseline retrieving during his first two matches, Ferrer couldn’t muster sufficient consistency to expose a fallible Soderling.  His first serve deserted him at key moments late in both sets, and his faithful inside-out forehand sailed perversely wide on a crucial break point against Federer.  Unless Murray mopes through another bout of Federer-induced malaise, therefore, Ferrer will become the second Spaniard in two years to exit London without salvaging a set.

***

We return tomorrow for the final day of round-robin play, featuring Nadal-Berdych and Djokovic-Roddick.

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