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Nadal on Soderling: 'He's Very Strange'

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 5, 2007

WIMBLEDON, England, July 4 -- It was on Day 2 of the five-day match between Rafael Nadal and Robin Soderling that the bad blood between the two surfaced.

Soderling, the Swede who trailed last year's Wimbledon runner-up by two sets, started mocking his opponent, yanking at the rump of his shorts just as Nadal famously does throughout his matches.

Later Soderling showed no concern when Nadal took a nasty spill. And when the Swede got a lucky break from the net cord, he failed to raise his hand in the customary signal for "sorry I got such a cheap point."

All of this grated on Nadal. And after Soderling over-hit a backhand on Nadal's sixth match point and dished out the final indignity -- a halfhearted handshake with no eye contact -- the Spaniard addressed the issue of Soderling's sportsmanship in his news conference.

"Is not nice," said Nadal, whose English is still evolving. "In the end, we will see what's happening in the end of the life, no?"

Nadal elaborated when speaking to reporters in Spanish.

"He's very strange," he said of Soderling. "I have said hello to him seven times to his face, and he has never said hello to me. He never answers. I thought it was me. But I asked around the locker room; almost nobody had anything nice to say about him."

Soderling was unapologetic when asked to comment.

"He must have been in a complaining mood today," he said. As for mocking Nadal tugging at his pants, Soderling said it was meant as "a fun thing" and conceded that he was irked Nadal took so long between points on his service games.

There were plenty of stressors for both players -- most caused by seven rain delays. They took the court Saturday, only to be called off after warming up when the skies opened. Though Sunday was beautiful, Wimbledon took its customary day off. On Monday, Nadal raced through the first two sets and had match point during the third-set tiebreak but blew it. They tried to complete the match Tuesday, but rain cut them short again.

Novak Djokovic and Nicolas Kiefer faced the same challenge: a third-round match that spanned five days. Djokovic finally won it, 7-6 (7-4), 6-7 (8-6), 6-2, 7-6 (7-5), on Wednesday. Like Nadal, he didn't understand the decision not to play Sunday.

"It's nature, and you can't fight against it," Djokovic said. "You know, it's stronger than us."

Legg Champion Returns

Washington's Legg Mason Tennis Classic has received commitments from defending champion Arnaud Clement of France, British No. 1 Andy Murray, Gael Monfils of France and Rockville native Paul Goldstein. They join a field that includes 2003 U.S. Open champion Andy Roddick, whose 2006 Wimbledon campaign was halted by Murray in the third round, and former world No. 1 Marat Safin of Russia. The tournament runs July 28-Aug. 5 at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center.

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