PARIS: Defending champion Roger Federer suffered a stunning quarterfinal 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 number one crumbled in the face of a ferocious onslaught as Soderling, beaten by Federer in last year’s final, claimed a first career win against the 16-times grand slam champion at the 13th time of asking.
When Federer struck a forehand long after two hours and 30 minutes it signalled the end of one of the most remarkable sequences in sport.
The last time he failed to reach the semi-finals of a grand slam tournament was in the third round at Roland Garros in 2004 when he lost to Gustavo Kuerten — a record sequence of 23.
Soderling caused a similar shock in last year’s fourth round when he inflicted a first Roland Garros defeat on four-times champion Rafael Nadal and he was unstoppable on a damp afternoon in the French capital.
“I came in to this tournament with a lot of confidence and today I played really, really well,” the 25-year-old fifth seed told a crowd still shaking their heads in disbelief.
Federer looked comfortable 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.
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 despite the crowd’s clear support for the champion.