Sweden. Remember Sweden? Used to send platoons of tough guys to the French Open, starting with Bjorn Borg, winning the first of his record 6 titles as a teen-ager in 1974.
Then there were Mats Wilander, the champ in 1982, 1985 and 1988, runnerup in 1983 and 1986, and Mikael Pernfors, runnerup in 1986, Stefan Edberg, runnerup in 1989, Magnus Norman runnerup in 2000. Plus difficult characters like Anders Jarryd, North Pole Nystrom, Jonas Bjorkman, Magnus Larsson.
They seemed to rise fiercely like Vikings from from their invading ships, in an endless stream. Until lately. But now it’s the overlooked Robin Soderling, who has restored Sweden to the headlines. As the first Swedish semifinalist since Magnus Norman, his coach, Robin, with his scruffy mini-beard and devastating, shotmaking, has rattled the tennis universe with two huge wins – upsetting not just a man but a dynasty in the person of No. 1 Rafa Nadal, as well as No. 11 Nikolay Davydenko, twice a semifinalist here.
Soderling, who’d never been in the 4th round of a major, ranking No.23, is now two victories from the championship. A week ago only his mother had any idea of who he was. Now, the task: beat Fernando Gonzalez and the winner of, Roger Federer-Juan Martin Del Potro – and Robin is on top of the world. A very demanding two wins though, but this very competitive guy has it in his head that he can do it.
And he’ll have the great god of Sweden overseeing – Bjorn Borg is journeying to Paris to personally lend his mental strength to the country’s prayers.
If Soderling works a miracle, he’ll be the longest shot since unseeded Gaston Gaudio ducked 2 match points to beat Guillermo Coria in the 2004 title bout. Also he’ll make Volvo owners proud (and make enough to buy a fleet of them).