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By Richard Pagliaro
Photo Credit: Tony Chang/Chang Photography

(June 1, 2010) Roger Federer, the master of so many Grand Slam final Sundays, couldn't stop the reign today.

Lighting up the damp drizzle with an audacious arsenal of sensational shotmaking, Robin Soderling reigned a series of resounding winners across the red clay in overwhelming defending French Open champion Federer, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 in today's French Open quarterfinals to snap the World No. 1's record streak of 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals.

"(I am) disappointed to a certain degree. I don't think I played a bad match, so it's easier to go out this way, I think," Federer said. "Conditions obviously were on the rougher side for both of us, and I thought he came up with some great tennis.You know, it's a touch easier to digest this way."

It marked the second straight year Soderling sent a World No. 1 packing from Court Philippe Chatrier.

"Hey, of course it's nice to beat the world No. 1 two years in a row on the center court," Soderling said. "I think both times I play really good tennis. I think it's a great feeling."

It was Federer’s first loss before a Grand Slam semifinal in seven years, ending one of the most hallowed record streaks in tennis history.

The last time Federer failed to reach the final four of a major was in 2004 when he fell to three-time French Open champ Gustavo Kuerten in the third round of Roland Garros.

"I mean, it was a great run. Now I've got the quarterfinal streak going, I guess," a philosophical Federer joked.

"No, I mean, it's been an amazing run. I think it sort of started here when I lost to Kuerten back in '04, I guess it is. If then I could have signed for all those semis in a row, I would have done it right away," Federer said. "I've made incredible progress in terms of my play at the highest of level to be able to always come back and play semis after semis after semis in Slams and give myself chances to win in Slams. I was able to win many of them.
I was proud to have that streak, and it's probably one of the greatest ones I have in my, you know, history books, really, for me.
"

Make no mistake, Federer did not fall apart today. Playing with the pyrotechnic power of a tennis demolition expert, Soderling simply blew apart the points swinging with the force of a man intent on splitting the seams from the ball.

Soderling has a habit of creating history on Court Philippe Chatrier.

A year after Soderling shocked four-time defending champion Rafael Nadal in a four-set, fourth-round stunner, the fifth-seeded Swede was at it again in a performance that was even more powerfully profound.

In a rematch of the 2009 French Open final, which Federer won in straight sets, Soderling sent shockwaves through the tennis world. He scored his first career win over Federer in 13 meetings, moved one match closer to a rematch with Nadal and may well have opened the door for the second-seeded Spaniard to regain the Roland Garros title he held from 2005-2008 and the No. 1 ranking. With Federer's loss, Nadal can regain the top spot in the rankings if he takes the title.

Soderling said he spent the past year known as "the man who beat Nadal." He will face 15th-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych in the semifinals carrying a new title as the man who stopped Nadal and Federer in successive seasons.

SoderlingIWvolleyTonyChang

Empowered by his strong sense of self belief, Soderling unleashed his windmill swings to deliver winner after winner across the soggy, slow clay.

"It feels great. I love to play on this court and when I arrive on this court two weeks ago I felt the confidence coming and I think I played better and better every match," Soderling said. "It feels great to finally win a match against Roger. I came close a couple of times. I really felt one or two times I was really unlucky. I kept telling myself I could win and I really believed in it."

Soderling saved a break point in the second set and sealed the set to level the match when Federer put a backhand into net.

An exceptional exchange in the 10th game of the third set proved to be a pivotal point in the match.

Federer held a set point in the 10th game of the third set with Soderling serving at 4-5 when the 6-foot-4 Swede snapped off a short overhead that seemed destined for the back wall. But Federer had other ideas.

Leaping high, Federer somehow caught up to the ball and sliced back a desperate forehand slice retrieval from above his head. Soderling stood his ground at net, turned and knocked off an acrobatic backhand volley winner to erase the set point and eventually hold for 5-all.

A rain delay came with Federer serving and when the players returned to court, Soderling quickly broke before serving out the set to snatch the lead just two games after he was on the verge of a two-set to one deficit.

Slower conditions favored Soderling, who hits the ball harder off both forehand and backhand than any man not named Juan Martin del Potro.

"I'm not blaming the conditions or anything, but I think they were in his favor towards the end. Because, I mean, these were some serious, tough conditions," Federer said. "If you serve 225, 230, you can still hit through the court on the serve. I may be lacking those 5 to 10ks extra on the serve to hit through a guy on the serve, but that's the way conditions are. I can't complain, because it was the same for both of us. But of course I'm disappointed to having sort of lost three matches in the rain on clay this season: in Estoril, in Rome, and now here again. So I just couldn't come up with the plays when I had to today."

Employing the short slice backhand effectively, Fed worked out a service break to take a 2-0 fourth-set lead when Soderling slapped a forehand into net.

Facing a barrage of baseline blasts from Soderling, Federer could not hold onto the break. A flat Federer forehand found the net and he faced triple break point. Trying to find the lines, Federer missed the mark with an inside-out forehand and Soderling was back on serve at 1-2.

Swinging without any inhibition, Soderling struck a mammoth serve to hold at love for 3-all
when rain briefly suspended play again.

In the seventh game, Federer found himself in trouble again when he banged a forehand into net to face break point. He reached back and rifled an ace that both lines to save it. The four-deuce game waged on until Soderling netted backhand return as Federer survived a six-minute game to hold for 4-3.

Two games later, Federer finally ran out of answers in confronting double break point. He saved the first with a sliced ace, but on the second Soderling slammed a series of backhands into the corner drawing a Federer backhand error to break for 5-4. The finalist was four points from victory.

Showing no signs of nerve, Soderling unloaded a forehand to reach double match point and closed out the match on the next point, snapping both Federer's semifinal streak and his own history of futility against the Swiss stylist.

It was a relatively subdued celebration from Soderling, who knows there is more work to be done.

"I always believe that I can win. This is a big win, but it's not the final," Soderling said. "You know, (I) still have at least one more match to play, and I don't want to celebrate too much. I want to focus on the next game."



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