'It's nice to beat the World No 1 two years in a row on center court'
Defending champion Roger Federer suffered a stunning quarter-final exit at the French Open on Tuesday when the Swiss lost 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 to Sweden's Robin Soderling in a rain-interrupted match on Chatrier Court.
The World No 1 crumbled in the face of a ferocious onslaught as Soderling, beaten by Federer in last year's final, seized his chance to claim a first career win against the 16-times Grand Slam champion at the 13th time of asking.
When a battle-weary Federer struck a forehand long after two hours and 30 minutes it signalled the end of one of the most remarkable statistics in sport.
The last time Federer failed to reach the semi-finals of a grand slam tournament was when he lost to Brazil's Gustavo Kuerten in the third round at Roland Garros in 2004 -- a record sequence of 23.
Soderling dropped a similar bombshell in last year's fourth round when he inflicted a first Roland Garros defeat on four-times champion Rafael Nadal, since when he has flourished into a serious contender for major titles.
Few were backing him on Tuesday though despite reaching the last eight for the loss of just one set.
After being outplayed in the opening set, Soderling went on the offensive with his fearsome forehand and first serve beginning to smash holes in Federer's defences.
Not even the Parisian drizzle and sticky clay could dampen his fire as he blazed away with 19 forehand winners and countless other shots that had the normally serene Swiss scrambling at full stretch across his baseline.
"Of course it's nice to beat the world number one two years in a row on the center court," Soderling said after leaving the pro-Federer crowd almost speechless. "I think both times I played really good tennis. It's a great feeling.
Remarkably, the 25-year-old fifth seed had managed to win just two sets against Federer in their previous clashes.
Image: Robin Soderling
Rain break disrupts Federer's focus
"I lost a lot of times, so it's a great feeling to finally end that streak," added Soderling who will be favourite to beat Tomas Berdych and reach the final for a second consecutive year.
"You know, what matters is that I won and that I won quarter-finals in a Grand Slam and I get the opportunity to play semi-finals in two days, which is great."
Federer appeared to be cruising when he won the first set with the loss of just two points on serve, breaking the Swede in the eighth game when he forced his opponent to volley wide.
Soderling struck first in the second set, storming into a 3-0 lead and cracked down some thunderous 220kph first serves at 5-3, levelling the match when Federer netted a return.
Ultimately the match hinged on a passage of play near the end of the third set as rain clouds loomed.
Federer had set point in the ninth game of the third set and almost converted it with an audacious smash from well beyond the baseline but Soderling was alert to cut off a high volley.
Combat was interrupted by rain at 5-5 in the third but when the players returned it was Soderling who was fastest out of the blocks. Federer double-faulted at 30-30 then watched a Soderling forehand rip down the line as the Swede broke.
Soderling won the third set with one of 14 booming aces and despite being broken early in the fourth he replied with two of his own as Federer ran out of ideas.
After breaking serve at 4-4 when Federer wafted a backhnand long, Soderling was ice cool personified, ruthlessly closing out the match, despite the crowd's clear support for the struggling champion.
Image: Roger Federer
Berdych powers into first Grand Slam semis
Czech Tomas Berdych bulldozed his way past Russia's Mikhail Youzhny 6-3, 6-1, 6-2 at the French Open on Tuesday to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final.
The 24-year-old, seeded 15th, fired down 36 winners as he romped past the 11th seed to set up a clash with Sweden's Robin Soderling, a shock winner over World No 1 Roger Federer.
As he was against fourth seed Andy Murray in the previous round, Berdych was simply too powerful and too accurate, leaving Youzhny scrambling in the damp conditions.
The Russian tried to mix up the patterns of play but each time Berdych just leant into another winner and victory came after just one hour 54 minutes.
Berdych has yet to drop a set in the tournament but stopped short of saying whether he was playing the best tennis of his career.
"This is the question everybody likes," he said. "It's tough to say, because I hope not. I hope that I can still bring something more and I can keep it for a long period of time.
"I'm playing well, definitely. That's right and I'm happy for it. But I just want to keep (things) a little bit lower. Kind of 'it's not that good and still I can bring something better for the next games'."
Berdych said it would take some time for his achievements in Paris to sink in.
"It's quite a lot of emotions just coming through and it's just too quick after the match," he said. "I don't have too much time to be thinking about (the fact that) I have reached my first semi-final in a Grand Slam."
Image: Tomas Berdych
Schiavone surprises Wozniacki
Francesca Schiavone achieved a landmark victory for Italy on Tuesday when she upset third seed Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 6-3 to reach the semi-finals of the French Open.
The 29-year-old used her claycourt experience to perfect effect to secure victory in 80 minutes and become the first Italian woman in the Open era to reach the last four of a Grand Slam event.
Wozniacki, the youngest of the women's quarter-finalists, seemed to be struggling with her movement and the 19-year-old was guilty of too many unforced errors.
Schiavone, the 17th seed, took full advantage with three service breaks in the first set and after breaking for 5-3 in the second she completed victory with a superb smash.
Image: Francesca Schiavone
Dementieva beats Petrova
Elena Dementieva recovered from a sticky start to beat fellow Russian Nadia Petrova and reach the semi-finals of the French Open on Tuesday.
The two baseliners renewed a professional rivalry dating back to 1997 on a rainy Court Suzanne Lenglen and it was fifth seed Dementieva who played the sharper tennis after losing the opening three games to record a 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 victory.
Both players received treatment for thigh injuries midway through the opening set and Petrova, who knocked out Venus Williams in the previous round, needed more attention after Dementieva levelled the match.
A confident Dementieva cruised through the deciding set as Petrova struggled to move properly, wrapping up victory with a forehand down the line after two hours and five minutes.
The 28-year-old Dementieva has now reached nine semi-finals but is yet to win one of the four Grand Slams. She faces Italy's Francesca Schiavone in the last four.
Image: Elena Dementieva