Robin Söderling hasn’t invented anything. A decade before his arrival on the tour, another Swedish tennis player with an incredible forehead was already ruling in the various indoor tournaments of the ATP tour. Magnus Larsson won 7 titles on the tour, reached the semi-finals at Roland Garros and, his greatest feat, a Grand Slam Cup in 1994, kind of “Masters” of the time, becoming at the time the only player to beat Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi at the same tournament in the 1990s. He gives us his very own prize list of the best forehands he ever came across.
1- Sergi Bruguera on clay courts… Or Rafael Nadal today
“Both of them have an incredible topspin… Their balls are heavy, they turn a lot, and rush towards your racquet, and it’s almost impossible to control them, especially when they use their backhands. When the balls arrive at you that way, you can either explode, or step backwards so much that you will lose the point on the next shot anyway. They are probably the hardest to play against, especially on clay courts.”
2- On hard courts, Pete Sampras
“Maybe even more than Roger Federer’s, Sampras’ forehand was an extraordinary weapon.
It was hit so crisply; even when you put him in difficulty in the rally, you knew he could pull out a successful passing shot at any time. Unlike Bruguera, I liked to play against Pete. It was hard, but the way we played was pretty good together. It was real, bam, BAM! Forehand aside, the key to Sampras’ game was definitely his service. Since that I was quite strong in the serve too, we always had to be prepared to go to a tie-break for a very tight game at the end.”
3- Alberto Berasategui
“A sick forehand. The move wasn’t academic at all, but it was in incredibly efficient. He was always looking to create the conditions to use it, so much was his game was based on it. And on a high ball, he sometimes had this strange way of hitting the ball - half forehand, half smash… I think he was the only one to do that. It was against him that I lost in the semi-finals of Roland Garros in 1994. It was windy, and he dealt with the conditions better than me. I had no chance.”
4- Marc Rosset of course, indoor and outdoor
“He had a very wide forehand preparation, but managed to be effective both in indoor and on clay courts, where the ball comes faster and, yet, where you must, above all, be fast. And in the 1990s tennis, we weren't too many successfully transition from one surface to another, from flat shots to topspin.”
5- My Forehand
“It could be part of this top 5 or, at least, not be too far from it. I had many variations as well: I could hit hard, sliced, topspin… In Sweden, we had many players with a very good forehand. Robin Söderling being the last to date. But if I had to choose one, I would pick Magnus Gustafsson’s. He had such a strong forehand (he mimes): the more he used to inflate his cheek, the stronger it was!”
Interview by Guillaume Willecoq