Simon Reed

Forgotten man Soderling has the mental toughness to return

Simon Reed

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It is hard to believe that it is nearly two whole years since Robin Soderling last played tennis. In July 2011 he won the Swedish Open but soon after he suffered a wrist injury. Then he was diagnosed with mononucleosis and he has not played since.

He told the Swedish newspaper Expressen this week about how his fight to get back on the court: "It’s going very slowly, but at least it’s getting better," he told the paper.

"People tell me I have to set a deadline, but why do I have to do that?"

It continues to be a tough road back for Soderling but I still see him as a future top 10 player even if it might be a tough ask for him to get back to that top five level he reached just before his problems.

He has a huge, powerful game in an era where that is particularly important.

We have just seen Rafael Nadal coming back after seven months and he is already winning title after title and Soderling can use that as an inspiration.

Robin never quite made it into the elite top tier but he was very close to it. He was every bit as talented as people like Tsonga, Berdych and Ferrer.

His path will be harder than Rafa's; after two years away he would probably need a whole year just to discover his old form but if he gets 100 per cent psychically fit then I feel he can do it.

He is 28-years-old but while that might have been seen as getting on a bit 10 years ago, it is not any more - and Soderling is what I would call a young 28-year-old.

The way he plays his tennis is not too demanding on his body. I've seen quotes from him saying he wants to play at a high level for another five years and I don't think that's unrealistic. He doesn't put the same strain on himself like somebody like Nadal who might find it harder to play on well into his 30s.

Mononucleosis is a tricky illness and it is hard to predict how it will affect different people. Roger Federer had it in the past but seemed to bounce back without too many problems but one guy who never really recovered once diagnosed was Mario Ancic.

Ancic was a similar player to Soderling – huge serve, big game, top 10 player – and it was awful to see what happened to his career – particularly as he always seemed like such a nice guy off the court.

I have only a limited knowledge of the disease, but from my understanding, with certain people it lingers and just never fully goes away.

Hopefully this doesn't happen to Soderling and you can sense his frustration in the quotes that are coming out from his recovery. There are so many ups and downs with an illness like that, that it is easy to get discouraged.

One area though where Soderling won't be found wanting in his recovery is on the mental side of things.

Soderling's mentality was always one of his strengths – he was a very tough character on court – he has always known his worth, known what he is capable of and I've no doubt he will stop at nothing to get back to his former level.

Other players will certainly be glad that they have not had to play against him because Soderling was always such a hard man to beat - he was a nightmare to deal with on the court.

Mononucleosis can eat away at a player's belief but it would have to eat a long way into Soderling's psyche to change him.

Here in Britain, Soderling might not be missed as some other players because he never really had an iconic match at Wimbledon.

But I don’t see too much difference between somebody like him and Juan Martin del Potro who really seemed to win over the British public when he lost to Roger Federer at the Olympics – he made himself a crowd favourite that day and something similar could happen with Soderling in the future.

In France though and amongst the tennis die-hards it is a different matter– especially after that win against Nadal at the 2009 French Open which is as big a tennis shock as I can ever remember.

People cite Lukas Rosol's victory over Nadal at Wimbledon last year as the biggest recent upset, but beating Nadal in Paris was something completely different – nobody saw that win from Soderling coming. People knew Soderling was a big player, full of confidence, and thought he might nick a set – but beat him? Absolutely no way, but Soderling just went and had the day of days.

I wouldn't want to make a prediction on where Soderling will be this time next year as it is not fair to him but from the day that he starts playing again, if he gets back to full fitness and has an uninterrupted run, then he will quickly get back into the top 50.

If he doesn't, it certainly won't be through a lack of trying.

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