I would have expected Söderling to come into this match with a plan for conquering a nemesis who is practiced at beating him. What I would not have expected is a string of lame-assed excuses after he lost. It’s not as if Kohlschreiber is some kind of novice who happened to be having an inspired day. Kohlschreiber is an experienced tennis player who has long had Soderling’s number. This loss is not new. It has happened three times before. Their head-to-head is now 4-1 favoring Kohlschreiber.
Granted Söderling won the last time they met but that was no easy win. That match in Rotterdam went to 3 difficult sets, ending with a third set tiebreak that Söderling won 9-7. That is not a walk in the park. So at Indian Wells, the minute I saw Kohlschreiber use the one-two punch and hit a confident backhand to break Söderling right back in the opening set, I knew that Söderling was in trouble. I was therefore not surprised that he lost. What surprised and disappointed me was the string of excuses he unleashed upon losing.
First he said it was his ankle, which he injured during Davis Cup. Then he had a hard time being specific about the nature of the injury because he had only played one match at Davis Cup and at no point was there a misstep or a fall. And no, he did not get it x-rayed or examined. Then it was that he got sick and spent five days in bed with a fever so he couldn’t really prepare. At no point did he simply acknowledge that he had been beaten period. At no point did he acknowledge his opponent’s better performance. In fact, he had to be forced by the end of the interview to even acknowledge Kohlschreiber at all:
Q. Kohlschreiber had a 3-1 record against you before this match, and the one win was a tough one in Rotterdam. Does his game match up well against yours?
ROBIN SODERLING: Yeah, he's a great player. Apart from these two last matches, we haven't played for a very long time. So the previous match, it was a long time ago. But again, you know, he's a great player. When he's playing well, he's very dangerous.
In other words, those old wins that Kohlschreiber has over him don’t really count. What counts is the last match in Rotterdam that Söderling won. And today’s match didn’t count because his ankle was hurting and he was fresh off a fever, and the tennis season is too long, and he could not give 100% and really he should not even have bothered to show up. Steups.
The problem with excuses – especially such drawn out and repeated ones – is that they make you look like a deceitful fool. In fact, in a study done in 2008 and published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, the researchers found that outsiders have a negative view of people who are constantly full of excuses following crappy performances.
One particular finding from this study may be especially relevant to Söderling. If in fact he was as ill-prepared for this tournament as he claims, his decision to enter anyway is completely self-sabotaging. If indeed he had suffered an injured ankle, a five-day fever, and inadequate rest after Davis Cup, the sensible thing to do would have been to call in sick for Indian Wells. At worst, he would have been charged a fine. Surely he can afford this?
However, the decision to enter the tournament anyway gives him a built-in excuse for failure. And a built-in excuse allows him to protect his self-image in the event of failure. A loss under conditions of injury and illness means that it was not his fault, that Kohlschreiber really doesn’t have his number after all, that it was just a fluke. He was off his game because he wasn’t feeling well. Excuses, excuses. And all this time I was thinking that gentleman Magnus might have taught him some manners.