Soderling still fighting lone battle for Sweden

Updated: Nov 26, 2010, 09:24 AM IST

London: Sweden`s Robin Soderling is used to going it alone -- after all he does not have much choice.

The 26-year-old, who climbed to fourth in the world rankings this month, was born in the middle of a decade during which the likes of Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg collected grand slam titles as if they were going out of fashion.

A look at the latest ATP rankings, however, makes depressing reading for tennis fans from the Scandinavian country that produced the game`s first tennis "rock star" in Bjorn Borg.

After twice French Open runner-up Soderling, the next highest-ranked Swede on the list is 28-year-old Filip Prpic who currently languishes down at 302.

For a country that produced not only six-times French and five-times Wimbledon champion Borg, seven-times grand slam winner Wilander and the serve-and-volleying Edberg, who retired in 1996 with six majors on his CV, that is some decline.

Even more recently, Sweden could boast the likes of 2002 Australian Open winner Thomas Johansson and top-10 player Thomas Enqvist but now, it seems Soderling must fly the flag alone.

How he must envy the Spaniards and French who are never far from a compatriot on their travels around the globe.

"Of course, tennis is an individual sport," Soderling told reporters on Thursday. "I`m very focused on my own game. But when I first started to play on tour, we were a lot of Swedes together. It was much easier."

"We had more fun outside the court. We could practise together. We could help each other. It`s not the case anymore. So yeah, it was a little bit more easy a couple of years ago to be on tour."

At least they have Soderling to bridge the gap while another generation emerges. After taking a while to realise his potential, he is now an established dangerman at the world`s big tournaments and many predict he will win a grand slam.

His year, which included beating Roger Federer at the French Open to snap the Swiss`s sequence of reaching at least the semi-finals of 23 consecutive grand slam tournaments, ended on Thursday when he lost to Federer at the ATP World Tour Finals.

It meant Soderling could look forward to heading home for Christmas and a rare chance to converse with some fellow Swedes.

While worried about the state of Swedish tennis, Soderling said it was for others to solve.

"I`m not the right guy to ask about it," he said. "Of course, we had so many good players in the past. But I think it`s not really fair to ask for that many players again."

"I mean, Sweden is a very small country. I think we shouldn`t compare to what has been. I think we should focus on what`s coming."

"Of course, it doesn`t look very good. But I think there`s still a couple of good juniors coming up and the federation is working much better again."

"So hopefully, in a few years` time, I won`t be the only Swedish player on tour."

Bureau Report