Soderling Stuns Federer For Semi-Final Berth; Battle For No. 1 Intensifies
by James Buddell|
Fifth seed Robin Soderling avenged his 2009 Roland Garros final defeat to World No. 1 Roger Federer on Tuesday, when he snapped a 12-match losing streak for his first victory over the Swiss superstar.
The Swede triumphed 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 in two hours and 30 minutes on Philippe Chatrier Court to bring to an end Federer's record of reaching 23 straight Grand Slam semi-finals dating back six years, when he lost to three-time former titlist and World No. 1 Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil, in the third round, on the same court.
"They all come to an end at some stage," Federer said of the streak. "You hope they don't happen, but they do. It was a great run. Now I've got the quarter-final streak going, I guess. It's been an amazing run."
Soderling's victory means that Rafael Nadal could regain No. 1 in the South African Airways ATP 2010 ATP Rankings on Monday if he wins his fifth title at Roland Garros. Should Nadal win his fifth singles title in the French capital he would have 8,700 points, while Federer would have 8,390 points.
Soderling will take a 5-3 career record against first-time Grand Slam semi-finalist and No. 15 seed Tomas Berdych, who is the first player from the Czech Republic to reach the Roland Garros semi-finals since 1992 when Petr Korda lost in the final to former World No. 1 Jim Courier. Berdych defeated No. 11 seed Mikhail Youzhny of Russia 6-3, 6-1, 6-2 in the day's other quarter-final match. Read Full Match Report
The 25-year-old Soderling is the first player to beat a defending champion at Roland Garros in back-to-back years since Mats Wilander defeated Yannick Noah in 1984 and Ivan Lendl in 1985. Last year, Soderling beat Nadal in the fourth round en route to his first Grand Slam final.
"Of course it's nice to beat the World No. 1 two years in a row on the center court," said Soderling. "I think both times I play really good tennis. I think it's a great feeling."
Federer was able to settle into the quarter-final encounter quicker than Soderling, who was forced to save one break point opportunity with a backhand volley winner in his opening service game.
Unable to dictate play and finding himself increasingly off balance in long baseline rallies, Soderling was broken in the eighth game when he hit a forehand volley wide at break point.
Federer, rarely troubled on serve in the opening exchanges, wrapped up the 32-minute set with a forehand winner – his 16th of the match.
Soderling found himself in trouble on serve at 30/40 in the first game of the second set, but the Monte-Carlo resident hit a well-placed serve that Federer returned long. Eight points later, he punished a short Federer forehand with a backhand crosscourt winner to take a 2-0 lead and maintained the break advantage throughout the set as light drizzle began to fall at Stade Roland Garros.
Picking up free points and playing inside the baseline, Soderling regularly registered over 220 kilometres on serve and he was able to convert his third set point opportunity when Federer hit a backhand crosscourt into the net. For just the third time in 13 meetings with Federer, Soderling had won a set.
"I think when I won the second set, which was very big for me, I really felt that I could relax a little bit," Soderling said of the turning point in the match. "After that, I think I start today play better and better."
Neither player came close to breaking serve through to 4-5 in the third set, when Federer created his first set point opportunity. Serving at 30/40, Soderling failed to put away a smash and watched in horror as Federer – scrambling to retrieve the ball, close to the advertising hoardings, well behind the baseline – jumped to hit a smash response. Soderling coolly leapt to hit a backhand smash into an open court.
He then hit two unreturned serves to level the score at 5-5 before heavy rain began to fall and suspended play at 5:38 p.m. local time with Federer serving at 30/15 in the 11th game of the third set.
Play resumed at 6:52 p.m. local time. At 5-5, Federer served at 40/15 and lost four straight points as Soderling hit pinpoint accurate forehand winners to gain a crucial break of serve. Soderling clinched the 44-minute third set on his second set point opportunity with an ace.
A lapse in concentration by Soderling gave Federer a 2-0 lead in the fourth set, but the Swede immediately bounced back when he put Federer in trouble at 0/40 in the third game.
Play was briefly suspended again at 7:19 p.m. local time, due to light drizzle, and after a five-minute interruption Federer was forced to save three break points at 3-3.
Growing in confidence, Soderling maintained the pressure on the top seed and finally broke serve when Federer hit a backhand long at 4-4, 30/40. Minutes later, Soderling booked a place in his second Grand Slam semi-final when Federer hit a forehand long. The victory denied Federer his 200th match win at a major championship (199-28).
"I think I played good matches in these kind of conditions in the past, and I think it suits my game pretty well," said Soderling. "It was a little bit slower, but I managed to serve really well and take the ball early. It helped me a lot."
Soderling hit 14 aces and 49 winners past 28-year-old Federer, who committed 27 unforced errors - 15 fewer than his opponent - and converted two of seven break point opportunities. It was Soderling's fifth win in 23 matches over a Top 3 opponent.
"I don't think I played a bad match, so it's easier to go out this way, I think," said Federer. "Conditions obviously were on the rougher side for both of us, and I thought he came up with some great tennis. It's a touch easier to digest this way."