PARIS — Whereas Robin Soderling's smelling-salts upset of Rafael Nadal at the French Open on Sunday seemed to say, "I do exist," his encore against Nikolay Davydenko on Tuesday seemed to say, "You probably should start taking me rather seriously here."
There's a rarefied art to following a monumental upset with an ensuing performance that doesn't go poof, and Soderling perfected it Tuesday with a 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 decimation of a player Roger Federer deemed a contender for the whole croissant.
"I don't want to be too happy, because I have another match coming up," Soderling said, carefully practicing the art.
An illustration of Soderling's chore post-Nadal had already turned up in this tournament, when Philipp Kohlschreiber, the German ranked No. 31, shooed the 2008 semifinalist and No. 4-ranked Novak Djokovic in the third round, then fizzled to Tommy Robredo in the fourth.
Heck, Federer himself knows the plight.
As a headbanded, ponytailed 19-year-old at Wimbledon 2001, Federer toppled the four-time defending champion Pete Sampras in the fourth round in a 7-6 (7), 5-7, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-5 gem that heaved with such gravitas and left all its witnesses feeling so privileged that nobody much remembers something else.
Federer then lost a taut four-set quarterfinal to Tim Henman.
"It's like if you've just beaten a great player, and then you have to back it," Federer said. "It's not an easy task, because how often does it happen in your life? It happens just a few times, and it's hard to back them up. . . .
"I didn't play that bad against Tim, but you just realize that not only Sampras can play tennis, but Henman can and there are so many other players that play so well. Just because you beat this one particular player, it doesn't mean you're going to now beat everybody easily. That's where it's hard mentally to be able to shift. Yourself, you have to keep on playing dream tennis, and that's a hard thing to do sometimes."
Soderling entered the perilous-giddiness zone Sunday at 5:45 p.m., when Nadal shoved one last shot wide and Soderling's world altered and his text-message screen started filling madly. Bjorn Borg sent congratulations and puckish gratitude for preserving his share of the record for consecutive French Open titles, four, which had tilted toward obsolescence because of Nadal.
People started trying to pronounce Soderling's name -- long "o," apparently -- and Soderling started trying to avoid hearing it. "Um, I haven't watched TV, actually. I haven't read the newspapers. But you know, my phone was ringing a lot," he said.
By the time he reached his next bout at Tuesday midday, many tennis freaks -- maybe even Federer -- presumed Davydenko the winner. Soderling did hold a 3-2 lead in the head-to-head and two wins on clay, but it would be Soderling's first quarterfinal in his 22nd Grand Slam tournament, and it would be Davydenko's fourth in the last five French Opens.
Well, 23 minutes in, Soderling had the first set. Some 78 minutes beyond that, he had all three, and a place in the semifinals, even before the concurrent women's match concluded. "He played faster," the 11th-ranked Davydenko marveled. "I don't know, it was very good control from the baseline. . . . I have no chance. I try run, but I'm not Nadal. Also like not possible for me."
He plays faster. He hopes the attention will revive Swedish tennis, of which he is the lone top-100 representative at No. 25. He looks quite steady. Everything around him seems loony.