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Swede ends Nadal's streak

Robin Soderling reacts after handing Rafael Nadal his first loss at the French Open and reaching his first major quarterfinal.

Associated Press

Robin Soderling reacts after handing Rafael Nadal his first loss at the French Open and reaching his first major quarterfinal.

PARIS — For 31 matches, Rafael Nadal ruled the red clay of Roland Garros, never losing.

In 31 French Open matches, dating to his debut on May 23, 2005, Nadal rarely was even challenged, losing only seven sets. He was closing in on becoming the first player to win the event five consecutive times.

Until Sunday. Until the fourth round. Until Robin Soderling, a 6-foot-3, 24-year-old Swede, beat him 6-2, 6-7 (2-7), 6-4, 7-6 (7-2).

"Well, that's the end of the road, and I have to accept it," Nadal said after the 31/2-hour match. "I have to accept my defeat as I accepted my victories, with calm."

Soderling previously had never won so much as a third-round match at a major.

"I kept telling myself, 'This is just another match,' " said Soderling, who next faces Nikolay Davydenko. "That helped me."

Nadal had won all three of their previous meetings, including 6-1, 6-0 on Rome's clay April 30. But this time, Nadal was a half-step slower, and Soderling was lights-out.

When Nadal missed two backhands, Soderling broke him for the second time to take the first set. That, Soderling said, was key.

"I felt if I can win one set," he said, "why not the second one and then the third one?"

Soderling had 61 winners, 28 more than Nadal, and won the point on 27 of 35 trips to the net.

"One of those days," Nadal said. "I had someone playing very well in front of me."

As captain of Sweden's Davis Cup team, Mats Wilander knows Soderling well, having picked him last year.

"Everybody's in a state of shock, I would think," said Wilander, a three-time French Open champion. "It's really nice to see some guy stand up to Nadal mentally and be in Rafa's face a little more than other guys are doing."

The biggest beneficiary might be Roger Federer, the 13-time major champion whose resume is missing only a French title. Federer, who faces Tommy Haas today, lost to Nadal in the past three finals and 2005 semifinals.

"If one guy deserves it," Nadal said, "that's him."

Nadal's loss overshadowed some other surprises.

All four of Maria Sharapova's matches now have gone three sets, including a 6-4, 0-6, 6-4 victory over No. 25 seed Li Na. She next faces 20th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova.

A right shoulder injury kept Sharapova off the tour for about a year. The last major she played was Wimbledon, where she lost in the second round, and she had surgery in October.

"I'm definitely a little … sore," said Sharapova, a former world No. 1 who has dropped to 102. "But I'll be fine."

In addition, defending champ Ana Ivanovic became ill and lost to Victoria Azarenka 6-2, 6-3.

"In the fourth game, I just suddenly started feeling so dizzy, and I completely lost my balance," Ivanovic said. "Ever since then, it was really hard."

And Venus and Serena Williams were upset in the third round of doubles by Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Nadia Petrova 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 7-6 (8-6). The winners of eight major doubles titles wasted a match point in the third set. "We could have played better," Serena said.

Results

Men: Robin Soderling (23) d. Rafael Nadal (1) 6-2, 6-7 (2-7), 6-4, 7-6 (7-2); Andy Murray (3) d. Marin Cilic (13) 7-5, 7-6 (7-4), 6-1; Nikolay Davydenko (10) d. Fernando Verdasco (8) 6-2, 6-2, 6-4; Fernando Gonzalez (12) d. Victor Hanescu (30) 6-2, 6-4, 6-2.

Women: Dinara Safina (1) d. Aravane Rezai 6-1, 6-0; Victoria Azarenka (9) d. Ana Ivanovic (8) 6-2, 6-3; Dominika Cibulkova (20) d. Agnes Szavay (29) 6-2, 6-4; Maria Sharapova d. Li Na (25) 6-4, 0-6, 6-4.

TV: 5 a.m., Tennis Channel; noon, ESPN2.

Swede ends Nadal's streak 06/01/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 1, 2009 8:03am]
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