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The Biggest Upsets of 2009

Robin Soderling© Getty ImagesRobin Soderling ended Rafael Nadal's 31-match winning streak at Roland Garros.

Take a look back at the five biggest upsets of 2009...

1. Roland Garros 4th Round – Robin Soderling d Rafael Nadal 6-2, 6-7(2), 6-4, 7-6(2)

With Rafael Nadal riding a record 31-match unbeaten run at Roland Garros, shockwaves were sent through the tennis world on 31 May as the seemingly indestructible Spaniard was finally beaten in the fourth round.

Chasing an unprecedented fifth successive title at Roland Garros, Nadal was stunned 6-2, 6-7(2), 6-4, 7-6(2) by Swede Robin Soderling, a debutant at the fourth-round stage of a Grand Slam, as a packed Philippe Chatrier court watched on in disbelief. Just four weeks earlier, Nadal had demolished the Swede 6-1, 6-0 in the third round of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome.

Since making his debut at Roland Garros in 2005, Nadal had lost just seven sets en route to winning four successive titles, but met his match in an inspired Soderling, coached by 2000 runner-up Magnus Norman. Nadal failed to reproduce the blistering form that had seen off former World No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt two days earlier and largely struggled to impose his game at all on Soderling – who in turn played a brave match and maintained a calm demeanour until the last ball.

Soderling executed his forehand to perfection in the first set as he broke serve twice to become the first man to take a set off Nadal at Roland Garros since Roger Federer won the second set of the 2007 final. Nadal restored order by prevailing in a tense second-set tie-break as Soderling’s form began to dip, but the Tibro native was not disheartened as Nadal drew level.

Soderling stepped up to dictate play in the third set and exposed the chinks in the Mallorcan’s armour. He clinched a crucial service break with a strong backhand throwing Nadal off balance to force the error and kept his composure when serving for the set at 5-4 to clinch a two-sets-to-one lead.

Nadal looked set to embark on the inevitable fight back as he broke to lead 2-0 in the fourth set, but an unperturbed Soderling continued to unleash a barrage of fearsome groundstrokes and broke back to love before forcing a must-win tie-break for Nadal. With his title on the line, Nadal was still unable to find his best tennis in the ‘breaker and was powerless to deny Soderling a historic win after three hours and 30 minutes.

“No, defeats never make you grow,” concluded Nadal, who suffered his first-ever loss in a best-of-five-set clay-court match (then 48-1 record). “But you also realise how difficult what I achieved up until today was, and this is something you need sometimes. You need a defeat to give value to your victories.”

It was only the 10th time in the Open Era that the defending champion had failed to reach the quarter-finals at Roland Garros, and it was only the second time in the past 13 Grand Slam tournaments that Nadal had failed to reach the quarter-finals or better.

Soderling built on his superb performance against the 2008 ATP World Tour Champion and went on to reach his first major final, which he lost to Federer.

2. US Open final – Juan Martin del Potro d Roger Federer 3-6, 7-6(5), 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-2

del Potro, FedererIn the first US Open final to go the distance in 10 years, Juan Martin del Potro dethroned five-time US Open champion Roger Federer 3-6, 7-6(5), 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-2 in an epic clash on Arthur Ashe stadium.

Despite his demolition of Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals, del Potro still entered his first major final as the heavy underdog. The Argentine had lost to Federer in all six of their previous meetings, including a crushing 6-3, 6-0, 6-0 defeat at the Australian Open when Federer won 13 straight games from 5-3 in the first set. He was attempting to derail the in-form Federer, who had not lost a match at Flushing Meadows since a fourth-round defeat to David Nalbandian in 2003

The towering “del Po,” known for his laid-back demeanour, struggled with nerves in the first set and a half and in no time at all found himself a set and 3-1 down. That was when his forehand cranked into gear, though. With Federer serving for a commanding two-set lead, del Potro capitalised on a slight dip in the Swiss’ level and two blistering forehand winners saw him heave himself back into contention. Del Potro was a new man. Gone were the shackles of the first set and a half that restricted the right-hander from exhibiting the full force of his ground strokes. He grew in confidence as he forced the set into a tie-break and held strong to close out the set with another forehand winner angled past Federer.

Nerves looked set to hinder del Potro once again in the third set when, after breaking serve to lead 4-3, the Tandil native tightened up – relinquishing the lead before double faulting twice at 4-5, 30/30 to trail by two-sets-to-one. A high-risk strategy in the fourth set proved del Potro’s champion's credentials and he held strong when facing break point threats to force Federer into a tie-break. Ignoring the fever-pitch tension on Arthur Ashe stadium, del Potro took advantage of an early Federer double fault in the ‘breaker and did not look back as he levelled the match, forcing a decider.

Del Potro blew open the match at the start of the fifth set, breaking Federer and holding twice to race to a 3-0 lead. The mighty Swiss was made to rue a missed break-back opportunity in the fifth game as del Potro offered up no further chances and went on to seal the dramatic victory with a second break of Federer’s serve after four hours and six minutes.

The 20-year-old del Potro became the fifth youngest man to win the US Open title in the Open Era and became the tallest Grand Slam winner at 6’6”. He also joined countryman Guillermo Vilas (1977) as the only South American champions at the US Open.

3. US Open 4th Round – Marin Cilic d Andy Murray 7-5, 6-2, 6-2

MurrayThe odds were stacked against World No. 17 Marin Cilic as he went into his fourth-round clash with 2008 US Open runner-up Andy Murray. The Croatian had never advanced to a Grand Slam quarter-final before, never previously defeated a Top 3 player and entered with a 0-3 record against the No. 2-ranked Scot.

Taking advantage of a below-par performance from Murray, though, the then-20 year old enthralled Arthur Ashe stadium with a dynamic display to crush the Briton in the last two sets. After saving four break points in the first set, including two that were set points when he trailed 4-5 15/40, Cilic hit back to earn the first service break of the match at 5-5 as a Murray forehand clipped the net and landed wide. More uncharacteristic loose errors for Murray proved costly as Cilic closed out the one-set lead when the Scot sliced a backhand into the net.

Cilic capitalised on his momentum and his brave, aggressive hitting from the back of the court paid dividends in the second and third sets as Murray had no answer to the Croatian’s dominance from the baseline. Cilic broke serve four more times to set himself up with the chance to serve out victory, and did so in style – with three blistering service deliveries propelling him to match point, which he converted after two hours and eight minutes.

Cilic’s New York fairytale could not continue, though, and the Croatian was ousted in the quarter-finals by eventual winner del Potro.

4. Roland Garros 3rd Round, Philipp Kohlschreiber d. Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-4, 6-4

KohlschreiberNovak Djokovic came into Roland Garros as arguably the favourite behind four-time champion Rafael Nadal following a stellar clay-court campaign. The Serb reached back-to-back ATP World Tour Masters 1000 finals in Monte-Carlo and Rome (pushing Nadal on both occasions), won the inaugural Serbian Open in Belgrade and then had three match points against Nadal in the Madrid semi-finals before losing an epic four-hour battle in a third-set tie-break.

In contrast, German Philipp Kohlschreiber headed to Paris with a modest record on the clay season, and he had never been beyond the second round at Roland Garros. Djokovic raced ahead 4-1 in the first set and a routine victory looked on the cards. But Kohlschreiber won nine of the next 10 games to blow open the match en route to a stunning 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 win.

"I think I played really one of the best matches ever in a big tournament," said Kohlschreiber.

5. Rogers Cup quarter-finals, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga d. Roger Federer 7-6(5), 1-6, 7-6(3)

Tsonga, FedererWhen Roger Federer goes ahead 5-1 in the third set it’s generally a safe play to make your way to the concession stand to beat the rush. But anyone cutting out early at the Rogers Cup in Montreal this year missed one of the most astounding comebacks of the season.

After dropping a tight first set to big-hitting Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Federer won 11 of the next 13 games to be within one game of sealing his 22nd consecutive victory at 5-1 in the third set. As one of the best closers in the game, victory seemed a mere formality.

But Tsonga reeled off five straight games and then held three match points leading 6-5 with Federer serving at 0/40. Playing his first tournament since the birth of his twin daughters, the Swiss rallied to force a tie-break. But at 3-all Tsonga won the last four points to seal an improbable victory over the two-time former tournament champion.

Invoking one of sport’s enduring truisms, Federer said: "It's never over until it's over… he completely lost his game for an hour there, through the second [and] the third. It was unfortunate I couldn't serve it out."

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