Soderling ends breakthrough season with tough loss
Robin Soderling's breakthrough year ended Saturday when he couldn't protect a one-break lead. However, the Swede's play at the ATP World Tour Finals may have convinced a few skeptics that reaching this year's French Open final wasn't a fluke. Soderling wasted a 4-2 lead in the final set before losing 6-7 (1), 6-3, 7-6 (3) to U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro in the semifinals, sending the disappointed Swede home for the offseason after coming within reach of another big final. But he made the most of his chance to play in the season-ending tournament as an alternate, beating Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in straight sets in the round-robin phase to win Group B. "I've played against the very, very best, and I won two matches and lost two," said Soderling, who fell to Nikolay Davydenko in three sets in his final group match. "I think I've showed that I can compete with these guys without playing my best tennis." Soderling broke Del Potro for the first time to take a 4-2 lead in the third set, but couldn't put the Argentine away. He hit two straight backhands into the net to allow Del Potro to break right back, and then quickly fell behind 4-0 in the tiebreaker. "It was so close," said Del Potro, who will face Davydenko in Sunday's final after the Russian beat Roger Federer in the other semifinal match. "The difference was just a couple of points in the tiebreak on the second set. But, anyway, he had a great season. I wish the best for the next one." Soderling's play in the deciding moments of the semifinals was in contrast to the rest of the week, when he showed an ability to keep his cool on the important points to win two tight matches. "Maybe I could have played a little bit better in the important moments and take advantage of my chances," Soderling said. "I don't think I did anything wrong at the end of the match. He just played a little bit better than me." Few would have expected to see Soderling at the ATP finals at all just a year ago - or even six months ago, for that matter. The Swede with the booming serve and strong forehand started the year ranked No. 17 and won just nine matches in his first 10 tournaments. Since then, he has piled up a 40-10 record. "I wouldn't say it's been a great year," Soderling said. "It's actually been a really bad first six months, and a really good last six months." Everything seemed to turn around at the French Open, where he caused a sensation by knocking out four-time champion Nadal in the fourth round. He later lost to Federer in the final. "It wasn't just that match (against Nadal), it was the whole tournament," Soderling said. "And even the week before that, when I really found my game. And it just continued after that." The 25-year-old Soderling will finish the year in the top 10 for the first time, and will enter next season with expectations he's never faced before. But he said he's more concerned with developing more aspects of his game. "I want to get stronger. I want to get faster. I want to move better," the Swede said. "I want to return better and I want to volley better. If I can do that, things will turn out well."