Nadal finally wins match, directs verbal shots at foe


WIMBLEDON, England (AP) – Who could blame Rafael Nadal and Robin Soderling for being a bit sick and tired of each other and, well, Wimbledon as a whole?

They did, after all, spend an awful lot of time trying to finish their third-round match, until the No. 2-seeded Nadal finally won 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (7), 4-6, 7-5 Wednesday, more than 90 hours after the pair first stepped on Court 1 to warm up.

Still, the on-court animosity and verbal shots traded afterward were hardly in keeping with the genteel setting. The usually affable Nadal, in particular, had harsh words for Soderling – and questioned tournament organizers.

“He’s a strange guy,” Nadal said. “I’ve said ‘Hi’ to him at least seven times since I’ve been on the tour and he’s never answered back. I asked other players about it. It doesn’t only happen to me.”

Nadal was critical of the way Soderling appeared unconcerned when the three-time French Open champion fell to the turf at one point. Nadal also didn’t like the way Soderling pumped a fist instead of offering the customary “sorry about that” wave of a hand after winning a point with the help of a favorable net cord.

“He must have been in his complaining mood today,” the 28th-seeded Soderling said. “If my opponent gets a lucky shot and he doesn’t say, ‘I’m sorry,’ I don’t care. For me, it’s OK. Why should I say I’m sorry when it’s the happiest moment of my life?”

The last straw for Nadal: What he considered a halfhearted handshake at the net when their marathon ended.

“After four days,” Nadal said, “that’s not normal.”

Told of Nadal’s comments, Soderling responded: “I’d probably say the same, but I won’t do that. I keep it to myself.”

On Monday, Soderling was upset that Nadal persisted in his slow, between-point rituals that many players have complained about, including Andre Agassi at Wimbledon last year. With Nadal ready to serve the opening game of the fifth set, Soderling walked deliberately to the sideline to change rackets – sending a message.

When Soderling returned to the baseline, Nadal stopped his service motion and held up the ball, as if to say, “Ready now?” That’s when Soderling turned away from Nadal and tugged at the back of his shorts, mimicking one of the Spaniard’s habits and drawing guffaws from fans.

Remember, that all happened Monday, when there were three rain delays – including one right after Nadal missed a forehand on match point at 7-6 in the third-set tiebreaker. By the time they had to stop Monday night after 8 p.m., Soderling had won that set and the fourth, too. Nadal, though, led 2-0 in the fifth.

When they picked up again Tuesday, they got in a total of 19 minutes, enough for Soderling to even the set at 4-all. Sometimes, matches don’t resume immediately after rain stops because weather reports predict more precipitation on the way, but Nadal and Soderling were ushered out onto court for stints of eight and 11 minutes.

“That’s very tough for the players,” said Nadal, last year’s Wimbledon runner-up. “They don’t think very much about the players here, maybe.”

He and Soderling originally were scheduled to play Saturday, and they began hitting at 4 p.m. that day. But drizzles forced them off before the match actually began, and then came the traditional day off on the middle Sunday.

“I didn’t understand why we didn’t play on Sunday,” Nadal said. “The weather was OK, so much better than yesterday, Monday and today, too.”

It took him about 20 minutes to close it out Wednesday, and he celebrated by dropping to his knees, as though the championship were his. Instead, Nadal or No. 4 Novak Djokovic – who completed a three-day, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (6), 6-2, 7-6 (5) victory over Nicolas Kiefer – faces the prospect of playing on seven consecutive days if either makes it to Sunday’s final.

Then again, who knows whether the men’s final will be played Sunday? It’s rained on eight of nine days so far, including Wednesday.

“I’ve got nothing to do next week,” two-time finalist Andy Roddick said with a smile, “so I’m here as long as I keep going.”

He beat Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-2, 7-5, 7-6 (6) in a fourth-round match suspended Tuesday and now faces No. 12 Richard Gasquet. Roddick trailed Mathieu 5-0 and 6-3 in the third-set tiebreaker before taking the final five points. The No. 3-seeded American has won 18 consecutive tiebreakers.

All the remaining men are scheduled to play Thursday, including four-time reigning champion Roger Federer – who’s been off since Friday. He avoided all of the rain hassles because his fourth-round opponent withdrew with an injury.

“We’ve been stuck in a locker room for nine hours a day, and he’s been chilling out taking the double-decker bus tour, maybe,” Roddick said. “Given the choice, I’ll take a living room over a locker room.”

AP-ES-07-04-07 1544EDT