Robin Soderling: The uncertain future of Nadal conqueror

Robin Soderling

In 2009 Robin Soderling became the founding and, so far, only member of the most exclusive club in tennis.

His fourth-round victory over Rafael Nadal in that year's French Open is the only time the Spaniard has ever been beaten at the tournament.

Either side of it, Nadal has amassed 52 victories and seven titles. His attempt to make it eight championships from nine campaigns, is the main draw in Paris over the next fortnight.

But if Nadal is to be denied in 2013, it will have to be by someone other than Soderling.

While Nadal's recovery was backed by a soundtrack of speculation and updates, Soderling's two-year struggle with glandular fever has caused him to drop off most fans' radars as well as out of the world rankings.

The 28-year-old Swede, a two-time French Open finalist and former world number four, claimed a thumping straight-sets win over David Ferrer to win the Bastad tournament in July 2011 in his last appearance on court.

There was little sign of it then, but a virus that kept him bed-bound at times was already circulating his system.

Even now it restricts him to a short practice session every other day.

"Nobody can really tell me how long it will take," Soderling told BBC Sport of his recovery.

"That is the hardest part. When I had other injuries, like knee surgeries, the doctors could tell me 'this will take six months and then you will be back'

"I had a time scale and I could set up the rehab programme,

"It started with a sore throat and a fever a week or two before Wimbledon in 2011. That disappeared, but I was left with this tiredness.

"The energy was all gone and for almost six months I couldn't do anything

"In the beginning, even though I was feeling really bad, in my head I was playing next week, Now I realise that this takes a lot of time.

"One day I can practice for 45 minutes, or even one hour, and feel pretty good. The next time I try the same and it doesn't work.

"I am trying to take it slowly, It doesn't matter if it takes two or two and a half years - as long as I am 100%."

Soderling's cautious prognosis comes not only from his doctors' expertise, but also others players' experience.

Britain's Heather Watson has not played since March when, after suffering back-to-back first-round defeats,

She is close to a comeback, but former world number seven Mario Ancic was forced to retire at the age of 26 after struggling to overcome the disease's symptoms.

Roger Federer, Andy Roddick and Justine Henin are just a few of the other leading players who have been affected, leading some to suggest that tennis professionals' globe-trotting lifestyle leaves them more susceptible to glandular fever.

Soderling, now 28, remains confident that his patience will be rewarded with a return. But he is prepared for having unknowingly bowed out of Tour tennis in Bastad.

"I would be sad if I never made it back, but during this time I have realised that life is more than tennis," he adds.

"I would always feel that I would have retired many years too early, but I am happy with what I achieved.

"I could have had it when I was 20 and I would have achieved almost nothing. You always have to see it from a positive perspective."

Beneath that philosophical outlook, perhaps prompted by the arrival of daughter Olivia in October 2012, the competitive fires are still roaring.

Soderling did not enjoy the inevitable jet-setting of Tour tennis, but he would be first in the check-in queue if his name was in a tournament draw at the destination.

"There have been both positive and negative things around this time out, but of course I miss the Tour," he admits.

"Tennis has been my life since I was five. I love tennis, the only thing I didn't like so much was all the travelling.

"For 40 weeks a year it was hard. But if I woke up tomorrow feeling 100% I would travel again right away."

When Soderling starts climbing plane steps and rankings again is impossible to guess, but while Nadal's remarkable winning streak continues at French Open, he is assured his own personal place in the Roland Garros history.

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