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June 7, 2018

Robin Soderling

Paris, France

THE MODERATOR: Thank you for coming.

Would you like to start?

ROBIN SODERLING: Yeah, I had a lot of requests. Like always, before this beautiful tournament, I had a lot of requests.

And this is first time, actually, I have been back since 2011, and it's nice to see all the improvements, and it's nice to see all the same players, or a lot of the same players are still here playing.

So I thought, you know, it's best, instead of doing one-on-one, it's best to get you all together and do a press conference and you can ask whatever questions you want. Almost. (Laughter.)

Q. You have launched this tennis ball, I think, last year on the ATP. Can you just talk about the process? Because I don't think any player did that in the past. And is it working? What do you like in it?
ROBIN SODERLING: Yeah, it's -- well, I started a company in 2014/2015. You know, I was trying to come back for many years, and it was really tough for me. You know, I had a lot of setbacks. Mentally I was going up and down a bit.

But when I decided I couldn't play anymore, I still wanted to do something in tennis. You know, I played tennis every day almost since I was four years old. When I played, I was very picky with materials and stuff, so I decided to see if I could start my own brand and make, you know, balls. Yeah, I started with balls. Now I have all different kinds of tennis materials and accessories.

It was a tough process, but it's a lot of fun. I'm happy I get to stay in the tennis world like this, even though it's not as a player, but it's a lot of fun.

As you said, we have it, and we played with the ball in two tournaments since Stockholm Open and before in Memphis. Now they moved the Memphis tournament.

It's nice to be in the tennis world again but in a different situation.

Q. How is your health now? And do you ever play tennis now?
ROBIN SODERLING: I do. Finally it's good. It took a good, I would say, four, almost five years before I fully recovered, which was really tough, of course, especially in the beginning when I tried to come back so many times, and then I had setbacks all the times.

But now I picked it up. I'm coaching a Swedish player, Elias Ymer. So I play with him pretty much. It's good. Keeps me in shape.

And it's nice to play. I always like to play tennis. I always loved it. Sometimes it's even nicer to play when it's just for fun and you don't have to deal with the pressure all the time.

Q. Do you think you might play on the Champions Tour?
ROBIN SODERLING: Yeah, why not? I had a few questions so far. I turned them down. I feel like I need to be a little bit in better shape before I go on the court again.

But I think I will do it in the future. You know, there is a lot of players doing it. A lot of Swedish players. I talked to Thomas Enqvist a lot about it, and he loves it. He says it's great to see all the friends playing a little bit. And it's much more relaxing, he tells me, than being a professional player.

Q. Obviously everyone talks about -- still talks about you beating Rafa in 2009. Can you tell us what it takes to beat him here? And, like, you were almost in a trance, it seemed, that day.
ROBIN SODERLING: Yeah, I think to beat him on clay, first of all, but even to beat him in five sets on clay is even more difficult.

You know, it has to be a player that plays extremely well. And I think to beat him on clay, I would say the only chance for any player now is to be really aggressive.

I was watching Schwartzman yesterday. He played extremely aggressive in the first set. Maybe he was a little bit unlucky with the rain delay.

It's an extremely difficult task to do. You have to take a lot of risks. So of course he's the favorite. But nothing is impossible. But, you know, if he plays well, I think Rafa has a really good chance to win it this year again.

Q. Are you amazed, nine years on, he's still -- like, it's almost impossible to beat him?
ROBIN SODERLING: Yeah, I think everyone is, you know, what he's been doing, you know, winning here 10 times, and now he's the favorite again.

He's still here and has a chance to win 11 times. You know, I don't think we ever gonna see that again. Well, at least not in my lifetime (smiling).

It's unbelievable. It says so much about him. And what I'm really impressed of is that, you know, even though he won it 10 times, he's here to win 11 times. He looks almost as hungry or even hungrier than when he won it the first time. You know, he didn't lose any motivation at all. It's amazing to see.

Q. Can you imagine for just a second that you are Schwartzman's coach? What kind of advice would you give him today?
ROBIN SODERLING: Well, I would tell him that he needs to play like the first set. I think he started off the match really aggressive. I think Rafa was a little bit surprised that he was playing so aggressive.

You know, sometimes you can see a little bit when Rafa gets a little bit hesitant, and I don't think he played as aggressive in the first set that he did so many matches here or like he used to do.

So, you know, I would say that he needs to break down the match, also. Don't think too much about, you know, how much he has to do. Because if you think about it, Oh, I have to win three sets against Rafa, it's really tough (smiling).

You know, he needs to really play one point at a time and really take some risk and don't care if he makes a little bit more unforced errors than usual. And also I think it's important that he shows, you know, himself and that he shows Rafa and everyone that he's on the court to win.

Sometimes I see many, many players, even good players, you know, top players, they go on the court against Rafa on clay, or Roger on hard court, or any other surface, and you can almost see that they don't really believe 100% that they can win. They hope that they will win, but they don't really believe in it.

So many times the top players, they win half of the match almost before the match started because their opponent don't really believe in it.

So I think it's really important that you show everyone that you are on the court to win.

Q. How different do you think Rafa is now as a player compared with when you were playing him?
ROBIN SODERLING: I think he's -- I think he actually improved his backhand a little bit. I'm really impressed about the way he plays his backhand now. Even when players put a lot of pace on his backhand, he's defending really well.

At the other hand, maybe he's not moving as good as he did maybe, you know, five, six, ten years ago.

But it's very small difference. I would say he's probably as good now as before, and it's just amazing. You know, he's 32? I mean, he can -- if he can stay injury-free, you know, there is nothing that says that he can't win this two, three, four times more. It's unbelievable.

Q. You said just now that top players win half the match before they even get on the court, but do you think in the last year maybe that has changed a little bit in the locker room, not just here but in all other surfaces, you know, all other Grand Slams? Do you think that younger players, other players think they can win?
ROBIN SODERLING: Well, I think -- you know, when I played, and for so many years, you know, almost all the Grand Slams, almost all the Masters tournaments were won by either Roger, Rafa, Novak, or Murray.

And with Novak being injured, Andy is injured, both Roger and Rafa struggled with injuries, you know, there has been a couple of new winners, and there has been a few players that has beaten them.

I think that's really important, because if all the other players see that, okay, it's not impossible to beat Rafa or Roger, I think it spreads really fast throughout all the other players. And sometimes maybe, you know, this invincible aura that the top players have, it can disappear pretty quickly.

And also in the results, you saw, you know, there is new winners in Masters tournaments, there's new winners in Grand Slams. And I think it's good for the young guys, because, you know, these top guys or these top four that's been dominating the tennis for so many years, you know, they're not young anymore. They are all over 30 years old, and they won't play forever.

So it's going to be a big gap for the new players to fill, because, you know, two or three of the best players in the history were playing at the same time, and we had this rivalry with Roger and Rafa.

It's not going to be easy for all the other players, but it's really time for them to step up.

Q. Talking about history, you changed tennis history a little bit by beating Rafa and allowing Roger to win here in 2009. Has he said thank you?
ROBIN SODERLING: No. He should (laughter). I'm still waiting.

No, I think, of course, when he saw I beat Rafa, I think he was a little bit happy, of course. But maybe he could have beat him in the finals. Who knows?

And I think that what changed is that I think if Roger so far hadn't won Roland Garros, you know, I think he still would be playing here. Now he choose to not play at all on clay for the last couple of years, which I think is a good decision, because he really wants to play as long as possible. He's really trying to make his career as long as he can.

I think it's a good choice. But I think if he never won a title here, I think he would still be playing here.

Q. You said earlier that mentally it's been up and down for you, trying to come back and being able to. Have you gotten over it? Are you able to look at your career and smile, looking what you have achieved, or is it still bitter somewhere that you haven't been able to end it the way you wanted?
ROBIN SODERLING: Well, it's definitely much easier now. You know, every time I think about it, I always try to tell myself, Well, hey, this could have happened when I was 18.

I still feel that I managed to have a good career. Of course, my wish was for it to be longer, of course. I think it's really tough for any athlete in any sport, when you can't retire on your own terms, it's difficult.

But it was much more difficult mentally in the beginning, especially when I tried to come back. You know, the weeks were going, the months were passing, and I just wanted to come back.

Now I kind of came to terms with it. But, of course, sometimes when I travel with Elias to tournaments, I'm there as a coach. I'm in the locker room, and I still see the players I used to compete against. They are still playing. Of course, sometimes I feel, Oh, I should be here as a player, not as a coach. But then, at the same time, I think that, Okay, I see all the stress in all the players' faces. You know, they are stressed before their matches.

It's a certain life. It's a tough life, you know, even though sometimes, if you look at it from the outside, it can look like they have the best life ever. And, of course, we have. We are doing what we want to, like, what we like the most.

But it's also not positive. So sometimes I feel like, okay, good, that I don't have to go up 8:00 in the morning to practice, do my gym. I can do it whenever I want.

It's mixed feeling. But, of course, I wanted to play a few more years longer.

Q. Now that you started coaching, is it like a goal to win a Grand Slam title as a coach one day, which you didn't realize as a player?
ROBIN SODERLING: No, I don't really think about it like that. My goal is to make the player I'm coaching a better player every day.

And now I'm coaching Elias, which is far away still from having a chance to win a Grand Slam, so of course you have to set up other goals.

But I really like coaching because what you get from a coach or being a coach is almost -- it's similar to what you get from being a player.

You know, now, for the first time, when Elias is going on the court, I'm feeling those feelings I had when I used to play. You know, you get this nervousness, and sometimes I'm even more nervous. Because at least when I played myself, I could do something myself to change the situation during matches. Now I just have to sit there and hope for the best. So sometimes I'm even more nervous.

But it's a lot of fun. You know, I see that Elias improved a lot. We started a year ago, and he was 280. Now he's really close of breaking the top 100, which was, of course, a goal for him and a goal for me.

It's beautiful and makes me happy when I see that he's improving.

Q. Talking about coaching, you have had probably one of the best or if not the best in Magnus. Did you take things from him? When you saw that he led Stan Wawrinka to Grand Slam titles, did you sometimes think, Oh, this could have been me?
ROBIN SODERLING: Yeah, of course when I see players that I used to play against and that I beat a lot of times winning Grand Slam, like Wawrinka, Cilic, and these guys, of course sometimes it's tough. I think, Oh, maybe could have been me. So of course it's tough sometimes.

And I think I learned a lot from Magnus. I learned a lot from all my coaches and from my career. I learned a lot myself from just going up every day practice, playing matches.

Of course I try to take all that experience and help Elias because he's in a situation where I were many years back. He's 22 years old. He's trying to break the top 100, and I think I can help.

And then every player is different. When I started with Magnus, I was around 20 in the world, and I was in a different situation. So for me maybe it was more mentally I needed to improve than just improving my shots. With Elias, it's been a process of first he has to develop, you know, his forehand and backhand and serve to be a good player enough, and then you have to work with the mental part, as well.

Q. Why do you think there are so many good Swedish coaches?
ROBIN SODERLING: Because there were so many good Swedish players in the past (smiling).

Well, I think to be a good coach, necessarily you don't have to have been a good player yourself, but I think it helps a lot, especially coaching an already established tour player. I think with the experience we all had, I think it helps a lot.

And that was the case for me. When I worked with Magnus, I knew that playing here, playing big matches here, semifinals, even finals, you know, I could talk to Magnus, and he had been in the same situation as me.

You know, it's different when you talk to a coach that could be a really good coach, but if he has not been in those matches, those situations, sometimes you feel like it's a little bit more difficult to speak to him.

And I think that's the reason why so many of the players now take in former players, because it's just they really understand what they're going through.

Q. And maybe it's too big a question, but why are there not many great Swedish players now?
ROBIN SODERLING: Well, it is a big question. I think it's a few reasons. I think, you know, tennis got -- a long time ago, it started off with Björn Borg. Tennis got really popular in Sweden, and all kids, both boys and girls, they wanted to start playing tennis. Then you get all the talented kids to your sports, and then of course it's easier.

And just by Björn Borg's success, we had Stefan Edberg and Mats Wilander, and then Magnus, Thomas Enqvist, Thomas Johansson, all these players, and it was just a self-playing thing. It just went on.

But I think the sport in the last, I would say, last 20 years, the sport improved a lot. You don't win tennis matches today the same way you won tennis matches in the '80s and '90s. I think the federation, the coaches in Sweden got a little bit lazy because one thing had been working for so many years, and they thought it would just be working by itself in the future.

But when the tennis changed, the sport improved, I don't think the coaches really improved. They didn't see what was going on, and they were coaching the players in the same way.

I think that's why we don't have any players. And now there is other sports that are much more popular. It's difficult. All the kids, they want to play football or ice hockey in Sweden.

So it's tough. But we have some good younger players coming up, and I hope in the future we can have at least a few more players playing on the tour.

Q. How do you explain Rafa's and Roger's longevity, that they still, 36, 37, 33, on that level, still have that hunger?
ROBIN SODERLING: They're just different persons from all of us. Well, you know, they both -- or especially Rafa, he's been struggling with injuries a lot throughout basically all his career, but he always comes back.

I think both him and Roger now is doing a smart thing. You know, they are trying to scale down their schedule, not playing as many tournaments just to have the chance to play, to play as long as possible.

But it's amazing. I think even more amazing is to see they can still, you know, be hungry. They won everything -- both of them won everything and not only once but so many times.

But they are still hungry. But I really think that the rivalry between them on court has helped them both. I think, you know, maybe that's one of the reasons Roger is still playing, because he feels that, Okay, if I retire now or any time soon, if Rafa plays a few more years, maybe he will beat a few of my records (smiling).

So he definitely wants to, when he retires or when they both retire, I think they both want to be the one that won more than the other one.

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