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TENNIS

Sweden’s Söderling gears up for Aussie Open

Sweden's Robin Söderling is poised to make a major breakthrough at the upcoming Australian Open, which begins on Sunday local time, despite a woeful record at the season's first major.

Sweden's Söderling gears up for Aussie Open

The 1.93-metre with the fearsome forehand moved up to fourth in the world rankings on Monday after capturing his first title of the year at an Australian Open tune-up in Brisbane over the weekend.

He has only made it as far as the second round at Melbourne Park despite scrapping his way to two French Open title matches and three other Slam quarter-finals.

Söderling, 26, had a howler last year in Melbourne when he lost his opening match to Spain’s Marcel Granollers. In fact, he has only progressed beyond the first round twice in 2009 and 2004.

However, a native of Tibro in central Sweden, started 2011 with a bang at the Brisbane International, where he saw off Andy Roddick with powerful serving and crushing groundstrokes to take the title and rise to world number four.

“I am playing really well and what makes me really happy is that I’ve never really played well in Australia before. But now I’ve won a tournament here and I’m playing really good tennis, which makes me happy and gives me a lot of confidence for Melbourne,” said Söderling.

The imposing Swede famously shocked Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer en route to the 2009 and 2010 Roland Garros finals and said he has no fears about facing the top two.

“I never felt that the gap was very big [between Nadal, Federer and the rest]. There are a lot of very good players and I think there are 10 or even 15 guys who can win the big tournaments like the Grand Slams,” he said.

“Of course, Roger and Rafa will always be the favourites in every tournament they play in, but I think there are a lot of players who have a chance to beat them,” he added.

Söderling, who split with two-year coach Magnus Norman in December and is now with Italian coach Claudio Pistolesi, is targeting the Grand Slams and Masters 1000 tournaments this year and feels his game is still evolving.

“I still feel I can improve and become a better player. If I can do that, then I’m pretty sure I have a good chance to do well this year,” he said.

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ROGER FEDERER

Is this the end of the road for Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer?

Roger Federer is talking optimistically about returning to his "highest level" after knee surgery, but does tennis have to start adjusting to a future without the Swiss star?

Is this the end of the road for Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer?
Is it the end of the line for Roger? Photo: Martin BUREAU / AFP

The 20-time Grand Slam winner announced on Wednesday that he would be sidelined until 2021 after his second operation in a matter of months.

Federer remains upbeat, tweeting: “I plan to take the necessary time to be 100 percent ready to play at my highest level.”

In some ways 2020 is a good season to miss after the coronavirus ravaged the tennis schedule. Writing Federer off in the past has proved dangerous.

He returned from a six-month injury lay-off to claim the Australian Open in 2017, winning his eighth Wimbledon crown later that year.

But he will be 40 in 2021 and is now heading into uncharted territory.

Despite his groaning trophy cabinet, there are two factors that will motivate Federer to keep going — the risk of losing his grip on the men's Grand Slam title record and a missing Olympics singles gold medal.

Rafael Nadal has 19 majors, just one shy of Federer's mark and Djokovic has 17.

Spain's Nadal will be fancied to draw level with Federer at the French Open, rescheduled for September, while few would bet against Djokovic winning in New York weeks earlier.

In April, Federer said he was “devastated” when Wimbledon was cancelled for the first time since World War II. Last year he fell agonisingly short at the All England Club, failing to convert two championship points on his own serve against Djokovic.

The Wimbledon grass probably remains his best chance of adding to his Grand Slam collection — he has not won the US Open since 2008 and his only title at Roland Garros came in 2009.

Even though Federer has slipped from the very pinnacle of the game, he is still a major threat to Nadal and Djokovic.

'Golden' ambitions

Last year, the world number four had a 53-10 win-loss record and he reached the semi-finals at the Australian Open in January in his only tournament this year.

Federer, who is still six ATP titles short of Jimmy Connors' all-time record of 109, has one glaring omission from his CV — the Olympic title.

The Swiss won doubles gold in Beijing in 2008 with compatriot Stan Wawrinka but lost in the singles final to Andy Murray in London four years later.

The postponed Tokyo Games will almost certainly be Federer's last opportunity to complete a career “golden” Grand Slam — he will turn 40 on the day of the closing ceremony next year.

Tennis will feel the loss of the elegant Federer keenly when he walks off the court for the last time.

Djokovic and Nadal have been the dominant forces in recent years but the Swiss remains the biggest draw and last month topped Forbes' list of the world's highest-earning athletes.

His last appearance on court was in front of nearly 52,000 fans — touted by organisers as a world record for tennis — at a charity match against Nadal in Cape Town in February.

Federer is nearly always the crowd favourite wherever he plays and has proved a perfect ambassador for the sport since he won his first Grand Slam title in 2003.

He certainly expects to be back and competitive next year.

“I will be missing my fans and the tour dearly but I will look forward to seeing everyone back on tour at the start of the 2021 season,” he tweeted.

The avalanche of support from his adoring fans showed they would miss him too, but they will have to get used to a time when he is gone for good.

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