The champion-slayer of Paris

Thursday June 3 2010

PARIS

Rafael Nadal’s world laid to waste last year and now Roger Federer ruthlessly put to the sword, Sweden’s Robin Soderling is clearly the undisputed champion-slayer of Paris.

As rain fell from a dark Parisian sky on Tuesday, Soderling towered through the murk, unleashing thunderbolt serves and ferocious forehands to leave the Swiss defending champion reeling and silence a pro-Federer crowd on Court Chatrier.

A day later, after-shocks rumbled around Roland Garros as Serena Williams became the latest champion to topple. The American suffered a devastating quarter-final defeat, losing a three-set cliffhanger to Australia’s Samantha Stosur after squandering a match point.

Serbian Novak Djokovic, the former Australian Open champion, suffered a similar fate when the third seed blew a two-set lead against journeyman Jurgen Melzer for the 29-year-old to reach his first grand slam semi-final, the first Austrian since Thomas Muster in 1995 to achieve the feat.

Soderling’s 3-6 6-3 7-5 6-4 victory was the biggest upset at the claycourt grand slam since... well 12 months ago when he ended Nadal’s four-year stranglehold on the French Open with an equally destructive show of force. Fifth seed Soderling had lost all 12 of his matches against Federer, including last year’s final when the Swiss completed a career grand slam.

Loss a bombshell

Federer’s loss was more of a bombshell as he had reached the semi-final of each of the last 23 grand slams, an incredible sequence since 2004 when he lost in the third round at Roland Garros to Gustavo Kuerten.

Should Nadal reclaim his title on Sunday Federer could even lose his world number one ranking, but he still managed to find some humour, saying: “They all come to an end at some stage. You hope it doesn’t happen, but they do. I mean, it was a great run. Now I’ve got the quarter-final streak going, I guess. Conditions were on the rough (side) but he came up with some great tennis.”

Soderling thoroughly deserved his victory and has clearly acquired a taste for battering egos.

“Of course, it’s nice to beat the world number one two years in a row on the centre court,” Sweden’s only man in the world’s top 100 said.
With Federer in search of grass courts and Djokovic out of the way, Nadal’s route to re-take his title and the world No. 1 spot looks enticing, although danger lurks in the form of Soderling, still the only man to beat Nadal 37 times at Roland Garros.

It was the fall of world number one Williams that made the biggest impact, however, as she had seemed to be closing in on a 13th grand slam title and her first in Paris since 2002.

It was a first victory against a current world number one for Stosur, who stunned four-time champion Justine Henin in round four, while for Williams it was her first grand slam defeat having held matchpoint since the 1999 Australian Open. (Reuters)