It was supposed to be a quiet spring afternoon for Rafael Nadal at the 2009 French Open against Robin Soderling, who retired from tennis a few years ago. Between the two, two years earlier, a strange rivalry had arisen on the courts of Wimbledon.
That time Soderling badly endured the endless routine in the service of the Spaniard, mocking him on several occasions with provocations of various kinds.
Soderling on his experience of beating Rafael Nadal
The former World number 4 scored the biggest upset of the year beating Nadal and ending the latter's record 31-match winning streak at Roland Garros.
Women's tennis legend Martina Navratilova described the match as one of the greatest upsets in tennis history. "People always bring up when I beat Rafael Nadal at the 2009 French Open," Soderling wrote on Behind the Racquet.
"Of course it was a great feeling. I don’t think anyone in the world expected me to win that match. It was difficult because right after shaking hands I realized that it wasn’t the finals. I thought to myself, ‘Okay, don’t be too happy, don’t relax too much’.
I didn’t want to be that guy to beat Rafa but then lose in the finals. I just wanted to stay focused because if you relax even a little bit you lose a match, like a Grand Slam final, easily. At the time I did not realize how big of an accomplishment it was.
I remember getting back to the locker room and having about 350 texts messages. It kind of started to hit me that this was a big thing. I appreciate all the support I got that day and still get for winning that match but the bigger story is Nadal.
We will never ever see someone winning 12 Roland Garros again" - he added. Rafa certainly wasn't at his best (he would miss the grass season due to knee tendinitis), although we can't take anything from Robin's victory, doing just about everything right on the court to earn the win fair and square.
Many people praised Söderling for his game, saying he was a Grand Slam contender and stable Top 10 player, though his mental strength and lack of consistency were weaknesses. In latter years, his mental strength improved and this raised the consistency of his game; much of this was attributed to the influence of his coach, former world No. 2 and 2000 French Open finalist Magnus Norman.