Catching up with Robin Soderling and his RS Brand of products

March 15, 2016

by: Nima Naderi

Remembered as the only player to defeat Rafa Nadal at the French prior to Novak Djokovic dismissed him last year, Swede Robin Soderling is now enjoying a successful retirement from the sport with the induction of his own RS Brand of balls, strings and grips. Reaching a career high of No. 4 in the world, the two-time French Open runner up has continued to develop premium products for the needs of the true professionals on the ATP World Tour. In the interview below, we catch up of Soderling and ask him about his life away from the Tour, his ever-popular RS Brand, and who he enjoys watching the most from the current crop of Touring professionals.

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1. How has retirement been treating you?

Naturally it has been a tough process. I really tried to come back during the last few years, but finally I had to accept that the body didn’t allow me to work on the level I needed to be able to get back on the tour in the shape needed to compete with the best players. As an athlete you want to end your career when your mind has had enough, not because of the body talking a different language than your brain. But I had some years to get used to the thought and I think I have managed to deal with the fact in a good manner.

2. What prompted you to start the RS brand?

Well, actually everything started with me talking for fun with a friend, one of my current partners of RS about what to do during the absence from the Tour. I had been asked several times from journalists “what is the best ball you have ever played with”. I had some balls I thought were good but not one particular favorite. We started debating however it was possible or not to develop “the perfect ball”. Then everything started as a fun project without focus on building a brand but once the ball was ready for launch after a year of hard work and development, working with a fantastic factory, the demand and requests from all over the world started to drop in. So, we didn’t really have a choice since we went from fun to distributing RS tennis balls across the globe in a very short time after the launch. After that start, we realized that there actually was a temptation for something new in the business, and we started to develop the brand further, which led to a new string and also a new over-grip. I can honestly and proudly say that I use all the products myself and that has always been and will always be a key for me to tell my team that we can only launch products that I seriously stand behind and that I think are great top premium quality. I am the head of development and I would never accept just to put my name on tennis material that I haven’t been part of developing. That, together with tasteful and nice designs have led to what I believe are the key elements that have made us so successful in just a few years.

3. Where do you see the RS brand heading in the long term?

In the long term, I foresee the RS as a well known premium brand appealing the part of the tennis community that really cares about quality and feel. Players should know that choosing RS means something positive for their tennis. If it is appreciating the quality, feel or the taste of the brand, I think will be an individual decision, but the RS brand will always mean premium quality.

I can see that we will have many more lines of products other than the balls, strings and grips. We will in short time launch a fantastic, smart and useful ball bag for coaches, that I think will be used as a complement to traditional ball baskets. Every coach on the planet should have one of those to be able to work more mobility on court. We will also launch new models of RS products within the current product lines, as well as vibration dampeners and some more things that we are working on currently.

I believe there are two ways in the long term for the brand to develop. Either we continue growing the company ourselves or I think there will be a great value for one of the big players in the business to include the RS brand in their company to get a brand with an edge and clear premium category that no one else can show right now. We have already got interest from firms wanting to both buy us as well as firms and investors that want to invest in us but for now we want to keep the ownership and development of RS.

4. What do you miss most about competing on the ATP World Tour?

Oh, I miss everything except the traveling. Maybe, I think I miss the practice the most. I have always loved to practice, both on court and off court. The lifestyle of working as a tennis player with clear routines and the feelings of playing a big match. Those feelings are something you can’t describe and can’t get anywhere else. Playing a big final in front of thousands of people with all the nerves and the pressure and adrenaline. I love all of it and that is something I need to accept that it is over and something I need to appreciate that I had the privilege to experience in my life.

5. If you could go back and replay any match during your career, which one would it be and why? What would you change?

I don’t really think that way, what is done is done but my answer today would be that I should have withdrawn from some matches and even tournaments and should have not played them at all during the last months before everything stopped after the final of ATP in Båstad 2011.

6. Your company recently became the official ball of the Memphis Open. Talk about how that partnership came about and why it makes sense to both parties?

Well, it was actually a result after great appreciation from the players in the ATP event in Stockholm. One of my VPs went to London to have a follow-up meeting with the ATP management during the World Tour Finals and he did a good job of describing the RS brand and how serious we are and the ATP informed us about the evaluation after the ATP event in Stockholm, that it was very successful. Players liked the fact that it was consistent and good on their bodies. That led to the Memphis team having discussions with the ATP regarding a ball agreement for the Memphis Open, that finally put us in contact. The contract was negotiated in a few days and I must say that Josh Ripple and his team from GF Sports not only made a fantastic event, but they also were great people to work with. I think it makes good sense to RS that we showed that we are for real, that many more players had the opportunity to play with a ball that is as fair as a ball can be, with great quality, great pace and they know that someone like themselves actually has developed it and that knows what a ball should feel like. Of course, it was good for our business in the US to show the tennis audience that their only indoor ATP event selected the RS Black Edition tennis ball.

I hope it also made sense that I went back to Memphis to visit the tournament during their 40th anniversary. Everybody in Memphis knows that I love the tournament; Jenni my fiancé loved to go to Memphis during our years on tour and I played finals twice at the famous Racquet Club. Last but not least, it was also a good choice since Stockholm and Memphis are the only two indoor events played in an old nice racket club, so it was very special that both of them selected the RS Black Edition.

7. How would you rate the current state of the ATP World Tour? Who’s your favourite player to watch?

How can you not say Novak, haha? He is on another planet. Seriously, it’s insane how good he is. To be honest I don’t think a lot has changed since I played my last match. That is shown in the rankings. Lots of players beyond and around the age of 30 are still in the top 10. This year, however, I think we will see a bit more of the new generation of players taking serious steps towards the top. I love to watch Grigor Dimitrov play, not only because he plays wonderful tennis, but also since he is such a great person. I also enjoy following Sascha Zverev. He has all chances to reach the top and he is already a very good tennis player. It was also great to see the young American generation during the Memphis Open. Taylor Fritz has huge potential and I also like the way Frances Tiafoe plays a lot. The Andy Roddick generation is now growing up and will challenge heavily. Then of course as a tennis nerd, I love to watch Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal compete and I am very impressed by my friend David Ferrer that he manages to play on the highest level and improving his offensive skills. Those guys are such great ambassadors for our sport.

8. Finally, what advice would you give an up-and-coming player trying to make it on the professional scene?

The only advice needed if a player really wants to try, is to really try. Do everything seriously, don’t leave stuff undone that you know needs to be included in a full attempt to reach the professional tour. Surround yourself with people that you trust and that make you feel good. And have some fun as well and never forget to also include rest into your schedule.

Rip it like Robin: Reviewing the RS Black Edition Tennis Ball

November 27, 2014

by: Nima Naderi

Known as the only player ever to defeat Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros, Swede Robin Soderling has turned his hand in recent times toward the creation of the durable and play-friendly RS Black Edition Tennis Ball.

Contacting Soderling and his partners for a play-test, I was pleasantly surprised with the initial black matte packaging of the balls and the fact that they sent over a case for use to try. Coaching and playing the game for nearly 25 years, I’ve had the chance to play with every ball on the market on every surface. Without naming any names, every ball that I’ve used has either produced pro durability, has been too heavy or even too light. I’m sure most of us out there want a ball that is easy on the body and provides enough life that it can stand up to more than one hour on court.

Taking these factors into account, Soderling, his partners and lab associates went hard at work to develop a product that provides great “feel” to the masses.

For starters, it’s great that each can contains four balls as opposed to three. Second—and I say this with complete sincerity—the RS Black Edition Tennis Ball is by far the easiest ball that I’ve ever hit. Training players from the beginner to national level, I was impressed at how much better the rallies lasted with each class and how good the ball looked after each session. All in all, the average club player up until the 6.0 level will find that these are some of the best balls on the market.

Without providing too much information as to how the ball is produced, Magnus Alsterback (partner, player and Touring Coach), told me that a key component to the product was an expensive natural-like felt that they used. This high-grade felt certainly adds to the product’s life span.

Looking at this product from the perspective of a highly competitive player, I could see these balls being a tad on the light side. With that said, Soderling and Co. have said that the RS Black Edition ball will be used at the ATP World Tour event in Stockholm in 2015.

For more on the RS Black Edtion tennis ball, checkout the companies’ Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and homepage for their latest news.

Nima Naderi is the Editor in Chief of TennisConnected.com. He is also the Head Teaching Professional at Bayview Golf & Country Club. He is a PTR Professional rated coach and has over 17 years of coaching experience.

Tennis Elbow: Robin Soderling: From tennis to paint

October 20, 2014

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon updates his readers on an old friend.

I suppose the easy (or cheesy?) way to start would be to say that I’ll try to paint you a picture. It’s not the picture of a painter, though Robin Soderling sure does dress like a painter these days.

It’s not one with the perfect ending, either. In fact, it has no ending to speak of, as if the painter had sort of stopped midway and said that he was done with it. To start the 2011 season, Soderling won three events out of four on the ATP World Tour and was soaring…until his ascent came to a brutal end, right around Wimbledon. He would be diagnosed with mononucleosis and the question would change from whether Soderling would ever win a Grand Slam tournament to whether he would ever come back.

About 1,200 days later, neither has happened. But The New York Times has caught up with the Swede last week for a fascinating feature (which starts with Soderling and paint, and thus the lede to my column). I recommend everyone to read it, but I’ve taken the liberty of underlining a few of my favourite highlights from The Times’ reporting.

-Robin Soderling is designing tennis balls.

That’s right. I don’t think I could possibly think of any more fitting occupation for the man who remains the only one in history to have had the fortitude and the cojones (and the deadly forehand) to overthrow Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. Maybe the Swede doesn’t play tennis competitively anymore, but he has just been named tournament director of the Stockholm Open for a year—and in the meantime, he’s designing the tennis balls that he hopes will be used at the event next year. I know of no one else who designs tennis balls, and it’s only right. You probably need to have a win over Nadal in France on your resume.

-Robin Soderling discusses paint.

File this one under “sounds so good as a concept.” If all you do is read the lede of that feature, then all you’ll have is this: “Robin Soderling was not sure where the paint should go.” That’s all you’ll have—well, that and the photo that goes with the feature, which turns Soderling into some kind of fancy painter or artist. Regrettably, the only paint that he is not sure where to put is not on any postmodern tableau he may have designed. Rather, it’s just the paint with which the Stockholm Open logo will be painted. It’s too bad, you say, but you think that maybe Soderling reads this column. And you think that if he does, maybe he takes this suggestion to heart and becomes a painter. And signs his paintings “Robin,” not “Soderling.”

-Dora the Explorer conquers all.

The man who broke Nadal’s 31-match unbeaten streak at Porte d’Auteuil in 2009 is no match for the über-popular cartoon. In the feature, we learn that Soderling was watching a match during this year’s US Open when his daughter walked in the room. She watched with him for a minute, and then asked him to watch Dora. And, because she probably did that thing where children ask just the darnest thing but with the most adorable face, and because her father loves her very much, well, they watched Dora.

-Even Robin Soderling is powerless against his children.

And maybe this final one is related to the previous one, actually. Maybe Soderling’s daughter wants to watch Dora only because she doesn’t know what it’s like to watch tennis. No young child would want to watch tennis, but if it were his or her father playing? Then it’s something different. Then, maybe that child would want to watch tennis.

But only if daddy is playing. Which he might still do. (Ish.)

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: The boring life of sitting in an IKEA chair at Roland Garros

June 9, 2014

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the 2014 French Open.

Well, talk about boring. Right? Rafael Nadal won the 2014 French Open by defeating Novak Djokovic in four sets of 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 and 6-4 in three hours and 31 minutes.

There’s no way around it. Nadal is boring. Specifically, him winning Roland Garros is boring. Boring is boring, and nobody likes boring. And that’s why we do it. What, exactly?

In anticipation of the French Open every year, we assess the forces on the ATP World Tour and we fool ourselves. We reason that Novak Djokovic, the second best player on clay in the world (the privilege of which is to hold a now tidy 0-6 record against Nadal in Paris), may win the tournament this year. That he might complete the career Slam. We ground our reasoning on whatever, because that’s essentially as good a reason as any other one.

We say that Djokovic might complete the career Slam, but why exactly? Because it’s time. Because he’s donated the prize money that he won for capturing the BNL Internazionali d’Italia to the flood relief efforts in his native Serbia. Because he’ll soon be a newlywed too, and that he’s about to be a father.

You want other reasons? We even come up with some that are at least somewhat related to tennis. We posit that the weather may give the advantage to the Serb, if only it can be cool and rainy. We mention that Djokovic has turned a corner since the above-mentioned win in Rome, as if all roads to France went through Italy. Oh, but not everyone stands strong. Sometimes, we predict that Novak will win only to do an about-turn at the very last possible second and explain that actually, Nadal should be the favourite. (Greg Garber also writes that Ladbrokes had made the Spaniard a 4-to-5 favourite entering the final. That was our cue—the house never loses.)

But mostly, we do it, because it’d be so much fun. Most of us like boring in our daily lives—we don’t like, necessarily, to see the IKEA chair we’ve just assembled lose its leg just as we sit down on it. But goddamn is it not funny when that same thing happens to our best friend. Well, every year in Paris, we assemble our IKEA chair and ask our best friend to sit on it, and when he does and nothing happens, then we fume. Because we know that we’re the only other person that’s going to sit on it, and of course the leg will fall.

That IKEA chair is Djokovic and Nadal playing at the French Open. We like boring in our daily lives, sure, but we hate it in sports. Change is hard, but it’s so much fun in sports.

Well, we’re wrong. All of us. Year after year, Nadal winning the French Open is anything but boring. Legend has it that he’s actually lost once in his career in Paris, though nobody can confirm that it has happened. (It would help if Robin Soderling were to give us a sign that he still knows how to hit a crosscourt forehand. I mean, where are you, Soderling? Oh, really?? Don’t call it a comeback! This loss just adds to Nadal’s mystique. Sure, he lost, but a relative unknown.)

But that’s what’s fun. Excellence is fun. Being in awe is a great feeling. What do you say when you’ve run out of things to say? When a man has won one Grand Slam tournament two more times than any other man in history has won any other Grand Slam? When this man hasn’t lost on this court in 1,833 days? When this man has a 31-win streak in France that’s not the longest ever, because he’s currently riding a 35-match streak at this same event? When he’s a career 66-1 at the Porte d’Auteuil? When everyone already knows all those statistics? What do you say then?

You say it’s boring. But how can this be boring? Now sit on your IKEA chair.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: The case for Novak

May 27, 2013

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, a new column that will look back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon makes a bold prediction for the French Open.

I might look like a fool by the end of Roland Garros, because I predict that Novak Djokovic will win his very first French Open and complete the career Grand Slam.

Of course, that’s far from an outlandish prediction. The Serb is the current alpha male on the ATP World Tour, and by a mile, and has six Grand Slam tournaments to his name—but he will need a monumental effort if he wants to take the final leap.

That’s because the Court Philippe Chatrier also happens to be Rafael Nadal’s backyard. The Spaniard’s successes in Paris need no reminder. Let’s just mention his record eight titles and 52-1 playing record—his one blemish looking more and more like a fluke loss in the round of 16 in 2009. (A fluke, because Nadal withdrew from many tournaments, including Wimbledon, and rested for a few months afterward, and because Robin Soderling, who beat him that French Open, has essentially gone missing.)

Currently in 2013, no one is playing better than Nadal, in part because the calendar is in the thick of the clay court season.

I know all of that, and still I’m taking Djokovic.

On the French Open clay, he is the lone player capable of making life miserable for the Spaniard. Granted, there are probably more players capable of beating Djokovic on clay than there are with Nadal, but I’ll take the odds. (Plus, I predicted this just a month ago. I’d look even more foolish to change my tune right now. He’s my favourite player too, so of course I want him to win.)

A lot has been made about Djokovic’s recent loss against Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals of the 2013 Internazionali BNL d’Italia event, just a round before a potential showdown against Nadal. In the match against Berdych, the Serb led 6-2 and 5-2 but lost in three sets. That’s a bad loss, and there’s no other way to look at it. He should have won, and he’ll be the first to admit it.

But I’ll point to the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters, where Djokovic dominated Nadal and left little doubt as to who the better player was that day. His backhand, especially, was lethal that day and Nadal was never really in control of the match.

For the French Open, I’m also banking on Djokovic’s drive and determination. Every year, it seems like he sets lofty goals to reach. That’s how the 2012 season, where he started and ended at the top of the rankings, won one Grand Slam title, reached the finals of another two, and the semifinal of a fourth, can be looked at as a failure. That’s because in 2012, Djokovic had wanted 1) to win Roland Garros and 2) to win a gold medal at the London Olympics—and he failed at both.

This season, it looks like Djokovic had his sights set, first, on Monaco. The event is played in the country where he lives, yet he had never been able to defeat the King of Clay at Monte Carlo in his quest to overtake Rafa on clay…until this year.

His second goal for 2013, really, starts right now. It’s a Roland Garros title and a place in tennis lore.

The event gets underway this week. Novak will either make me look like a genius or like a fool. One sounds so much better than the other.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @CeeeBG

Robin Soderling pulls out of Australian Open

December 8, 2011

Former world No. 4 Robin Soderling told his fans on Twitter today that he hopes for an ATP World Tour return in February. The hard-hitting Swede was struck with mononucleosis in July and has since to play a competitive match.

“Hello my friends,” Soderling said on Twitter. I am very sorry for being away for so long and for not giving many updates but my recovery has been longer than expected. I am feeling better with each day but it will still take some time before I can start practicing in full speed. My goal is to start with practice in January and I hope for tournament comeback in February but at this stage it is hard to know when and where. I hope my body will allow me to do that. I will try to give you more updates. I love reading your messages and appreciate your support and encouragement very much.”

Soderling began 2011 in strong form, recording an 18-1 record. The Tibro native is currently ranked No. 13 in the world.

Soderling confirms he has mono

September 8, 2011

World No. 6 Robin Soderling confirmed on his Facebook page earlier today that he has been battling mono for quite some time. The Swede, who was forced to pull out of the summer hard-court Masters events as well as the US Open, will look to return to the courts when he’s fully fit.

“It’s been a difficult period but I am getting better,” Soderling told his fans on Facebook. Doctors confirmed that I have had mono for quite some time and this truly explains my lack of energy but my health is improving and I hope to be back on the court as soon as possible. Thank you so much for your support and hope to see you soon.”

Soderling hasn’t played on Tour since winning his hometown event in Bastad.

Video: Soderling Plays for Peace

August 7, 2011

Robin Söderling and artist Ernst Billgren met up at the Swedish Open in Båstad, Sweden earlier this summer to create a sculpture for the Non-Violence Tour. The sculpture was later unveiled at the opening ceremonies at the tournament.

Soderling showcased his pin-point accuracy for this worthy cause.

Enjoy.

Roddick, Soderling out of Rogers Cup

August 4, 2011

Former winner Andy Roddick and current world No. 5 Robin Soderling have both withdrawn from next week’s Rogers Cup in Montreal, Canada.

Roddick (oblique muscle injury), and Soderling (wrist) join the growing list of injured players to miss the year’s six Masters 1000 event. Jurgen Melzer (quad), Milos Raonic (hip), Xavier Malisse (personal), Sam Querrey (elbow injury) and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (appendicitis) have also withdrawn.

Soderling Rocks Ferrer for Second Swedish Title

July 17, 2011

World No. 5 Robin Soderling captured his fourth ATP World Tour title on Sunday by dismissing David Ferrer in the final of the SkiStar Swedish Open on Sunday.

Defeating Soderling 6-2, 6-2, Soderling didn’t drop a set all week, while losing all but 13 games through four matches. Improving to 10-4 against Ferrer in lifetime meetings, Soderling won his second title in the last three years.

Ferrer, who aided Spain in a victory over the United States in Davis Cup last weekend, fell to 2-3 in finals this year.

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