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King dethroned: Nadal out of Roland Garros

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Originally published on: 26/02/10 11:33

Pinch yourself – Rafael Nadal’s five-year, 31-match unbeaten run at the French Open is over.

The four-time defending champion lost to No.23 seed Robin Soderling 6-2 6-7(2) 6-4 7-6(2) in the fourth round, after the Swede ran Nadal ragged on Court Philippe Chatrier, raining booming serves and blistering forehands from the offset.

“I told myself this is just another match,” said Soderling, who has never previously reached the quarter-finals. “All the time, I was trying to play as if it was a training session. When I was 4-1 up in the tie-break, I started to believe.”

Soderling broke the world No.1 twice on the way to wrapping up a comfortable first set in just 34 minutes, and took his first service game in the second set to love before Nadal found an opening.

“All the time, I was trying to play as if it was a training session. When I was 4-1 up in the tie-break, I started to believe” – Soderling

The Spaniard broke back in game three, and was soon serving for the set at 5-4. But the unnerving number of unforced errors that he had produced in the first set crept back into his game, allowing Soderling to break back once more. The Swede crumbled in the tie-break, however, conceding six consecutive points as Nadal leveled the match.

All looked back on track for the defending champion to go on and win the match from there. But Soderling had other ideas, and having held his serve throughout the third set, he broke Nadal in game seven before serving out to take it 6-4.

A clearly rattled Nadal appearred to be launching a fightback with an early break in the fourth, but Soderling broke back immediately, and matched Nadal game for game to set up a second tie-break.

This time it was Soderling’s turn to dominate proceedings, the Swede overwhelming his opponent 7-2 to complete an incredible win. His reward is a place in the quarter-finals, where he will meet the winner of Fernando Verdasco’s match with Nikolay Davydenko.

Nadal has dominated the French Open since his first match on the red clay at Roland Garros. In his 31 previous matches, he had lost only seven sets – the last one two years ago, against Roger Federer in the 2007 final.

“He can’t feel good right now,” said Soderling, who called Nadal “the greatest clay-court player of all time.”

“It’s not a tragedy, I had to lose one day. I must accept my defeats with the same level of calm that I accept my victories” – Nadal

Moments earlier, the women’s defending champion Ana Ivanovic also crashed out, losing to Belarusian teen Victoria Azarenka 6-2 6-3. The last time two defending champions lost in the same round at a Grand Slam tournament was in 2004 when Justine Henin and Juan Carlos Ferrero lost in the second round of the French Open.

Nadal, who had won the Monte Carlo, Rome and Barcelona events in the run-up to Paris, was characteristically gracious in defeat. “He didn’t surprise me because I know how he plays and how dangerous he can be,” said the Spaniard.

“I didn’t play my best. I played very short and I couldn’t attack. I made it easy for him to play at his level. But I lost. I was not calm enough to face the important points, so I had to fight. But sometimes fighting is not enough. You have to play a good level of tennis.

And the Spaniard was adamant that physical burnout was not to blame for the defeat.

“People think I win because I’m physically fit, but, no. When I win, it’s because I play well, and that wasn’t the case today,” said the world No.1. “It’s not a tragedy, I had to lose one day. I must accept my defeats with the same level of calm that I accept my victories.”

The monumental shock caps an encouraging weekend for three-time finalist Roger Federer. The former No.1 needs only to win the French Open title to complete a career Grand Slam, and his path to the title had already received a boost when his potential semi-final opponent Novak Djokovic was eliminated by Philip Kohlschreiber.

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