It's not unusual: Soderling overpowers Murray
Tom Jones belting out “It’s Not Unusual” over the loudspeaker at a change of ends towards the end of the second set did not seem very appropriate. Andy Murray was getting slaughtered – and that is unusual.
The Scot was trailing 6-1, 5-4 at the time and had been comprehensively outplayed by Robin Soderling up to that stage of this BNP Paribas Open quarter final here at Indian Wells. In a sudden shift that came close to turning the whole match inside out, Murray broke back for 5-5 and came within two points of the set when Soderling, suddenly – and temporarily – thrown out of his stride, made a couple of errors at 5-6.
The change had come about because Murray had dug out a couple of great defensive lobs in that tenth game, inviting the tall (six-foot four) Swede to put away overheads. But he couldn’t. Murray got on the end of both of them, eliciting an uncontrolled volley from Soderling on the first, then drilling a superb backhand down the line for a clean winner off the second to complete the break back.
Murray then proceeded to serve up three consecutive aces to hold for 6-5. The momentum had taken such a dramatic and unlikely shift that Murray should have ridden it all the way through the tie break, but this was simply not his day. He hit a backhand long to hand the Swede the mini break on the first point and was playing catch-up thereafter.
And there was no catching Soderling. Anyone wondering how he managed to cause the shock of 2009 by beating Rafael Nadal at the French Open, where he went on to reach the final, got a close up of the man’s talents here. Different conditions of course, but all the attributes that have made Soderling one of the most feared indoor players in the world were blossoming on a sun-splashed desert afternoon – a huge serve that kept finding the lines; a penetrating backhand, and a forehand that could break rocks.
That clay court win in Paris proved that Soderling had added something to his game and, as Murray said afterwards, “He is a lot better player than he was when I played him three years ago”.
It was actually 2006 when Murray and Soderling last met – the Scot winning in three sets in San Jose and losing 6-1, 6-4 in Memphis, both indoors. The fact that the 25-year-old Swede can now produce his best tennis against top class opposition in all conditions underpins his all-round improvement.
Murray had four break points in the opening game of the match, but thereafter found himself completely outplayed as Soderling’s game settled into a devastating rhythm.
Murray conceded that he did not move particularly well, adding “from my side it was poor, but he hit the ball really big from the back of the court and served well when he needed to. And then I made some mistakes in the tie break. That’s why I lost.”
Soderling admitted to being thrown a little by Murray’s sudden fightback at the end of the second set. “I was pretty sure my only chance to win the match was to stay calm and hopefully make it to the tie-break,” he said. “Then anything can happen.”
Murray was defending a lot of ATP ranking points here, having reached the final last year, and will be under even more pressure to perform at the Sony Ericsson Championships in Miami next week – a title he won in 2009. Fortunately for the Scot, who is currently ranked No 4, several of his main challengers have not gained on him here this week – world No 2 Novak Djokovic went out a round earlier, No 5 Juan Martin del Potro, the reigning US Open champion, was missing with a wrist injury that will also keep him out of Miami and sixth ranked Nikolay Davydenko is also out of the game with a similar injury. Even Marin Cilic, the highly promising young Croat, lost the opportunity to move up from No 9 by losing here in the second round.
So there will be much at stake for Soderling and Andy Roddick when they meet in Saturday’s semi-final. Soderling, with a ranking of seven, and Roddick, at eight, both have a chance to close the gap on the leaders. For the Swede, who continues to surprise after ten years on the circuit, this will be his first appearance in an ATP Masters 1000 semi-final although, of course, he has already made it to a Grand Slam final.