Sunday, August 2, 2009

Magnus and Robin: A winning partnership

I remember that match against Guga at the 2000 French Open. From where I was sitting, it seemed to me that the man in black (Magnus Norman) had won the fourth set tie-breaker and the match should have gone on to a fifth. This was in the era before hawk eye, so complaining about calls was pointless. And besides, the advantage to clay is that you’re able to find the mark in the dirt. Of course, late into a match, there are a lot of marks to choose from and, from my point of view, the umpire chose the wrong mark. Norman lost the fourth set and the match to Guga.

But Magnus Norman was never one to complain. On the contrary he once lost a match by correcting a call against himself on match point. You can’t get more sportsmanlike than that.

At his prime, Norman had wins against some of the best tennis players. During his career, he spanked such stellar players as Alex Corretja, Marcelo Rios, Thomas Enqvist, and of course Gustavo Kuerten whom he had beaten in Rome earlier in 2000, only to lose to him questionably [in my opinion] in Paris later that same year.

For a while Norman became more famous for dating Martina Hingis than for being a tremendous tennis player who was once made it to #2 in the world. The injuries that eventually took him out of the sport were touted as evidence of the Hingis so-called 'Black Widow' curse. It was purported that every man she dated ended up being ruined one way or another. One of these days I will write a piece on the negative power some men ascribe to women!

Now Norman is back, as quiet and unassuming as ever. He has retired from playing tennis and is now coaching fellow-countryman, Robin Söderling. Together they seem to have created a winning partnership.

Yesterday the Tennis Channel featured the finals match between Söderling and Juan Monaco of Argentina at the Catella Swedish Open in Båstad. I expected there to be some hiccups for Söderling, not because I don’t have confidence in his game but because no matter how good you are, it’s always tough to play in front of your own people. But there were no glitches, no hesitation. In the second set it looked for a moment as if Monaco had finally figured out to break the Söderling serve. But his run did not last long as they faced each other down in a deciding tie-breaker which Söderling won.

More than anything I was impressed with the solidity, consistency and quality of Söderling’s tennis. There is no question regarding the improved quality of Söderling’s tennis since he started working with Norman. He has been having a wonderful year. In fact, I am about to pay him the highest compliment that I can think of giving to any tennis player: Söderling plays intelligent tennis. As did Magnus Norman, back in the day. Perhaps this is why their partnership works. And by winning the 2009 Swedish Open, Söderling has brought the circle fully closed. This was a title that Norman himself won during that magical year in 2000 when he was at the top of his form.

TENNIS: MAY 29 French Open

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