Rafael Nadal's domination at the French Open was finally broken as the claycourt king shockingly surrendered 2-6, 7-6 (2), 4-6, 6-7 (2) to a 25th-ranked Swedish Robin Soderling on a bad Sunday for champions.
A dejected Rafael Nadal of Spain reacts during the Men's Singles Fourth Round match against Robin Soderling of Sweden on day eight of the French Open at Roland Garros on May 31, 2009 in Paris, France.
Soderling, hardly known out of tennis circle before the match, now put his name on everyone's lips after he completed a mission impossible by handing four-time winner Nadal his first-ever defeat at Roland Garros.
For a while, Nadal looked fighting back from one set down when he won a tiebreaker in the second set. While many thought the 22-year-old Spaniard could still roll on to a record fifth straight title in, Soderling refused to let it happen.
As his attempt at an angled volley looped wide in the second tiebreaker of the match, Nadal was finally brought down on his favorite surface on which he has piled up 150 wins against six losses including the most vicious one.
"I lost. That's what I can say," said Nadal, "I played very short and I made him very easy to play at this level. When a player plays bad, he must lose."
"This is not a tragedy, losing here in Paris. It had to happen one day. I have to accept it with the same calm when I lose as when I win," he added.
Also on clay, Nadal had overwhelmed Soderling, 6-1, 6-0, earlier this season in the Round of 16 in Rome, but he insisted he was not surprised by his opponent's powerful performance this time.
"He didn't surprised me, because I know how he play, how dangerous he can be." he said.
"So it was my fault. Sure, he did very well. But I didn't play my tennis and for that reason I lost." he added.
Soderling tried to stay cool as he braced himself for "the biggest moment so far" of his career.
"I'm very, very happy. I couldn't even dream of this before the match, so I will remember this match for the rest of my life. But I also want to try to concentrate on the next matches, so I don't want to feel too happy.
"I kept telling myself, this is just another match. I don't care if it's the fourth round in French Open against Nadal. This is just like any other match. That helped me." he added.
Also crashing out was women's defending champion Ana Ivanovic, who lost to Belarus teenager Victoria Azarenka 6-2, 6-3.
A dejected Ana Ivanovic of Serbia reacts during her Women's Singles Fourth Round match against Victoria Azarenka of Belarus on day eight of the French Open at Roland Garros on May 31, 2009 in Paris, France.
The eighth-seeded Serb, who has been struggling with a right knee injury and was played with black tape over the area, joined the likes of Venus Williams and Elena Dementieva to become another big casualty so far.
Azarenka, 19, set up a quarter-final date with world number one Dinara Safina.
A ruthless Safina hardly sweated to wrap up a 6-1, 6-0 victory over Aravane Rezai of France in 53 minutes.
The Russian has lost only five games through four rounds of the clay-court major, with four of the eight sets she has played being won at love.
While "efficient" would be the word for Safina's no-waste style of play, the 23-year-old insisted that she should not allow free points to opponents.
"I'm trying to be very professional. I don't waste my energy." she said, "No free points. No stupid mistakes. Just point by point I'm playing."
Briton Andy Murray advanced to his first French Open quarterfinals with a 7-5, 7-6 (4), 6-1 victory over Marin Cilic of Croatia.
While the opening two sets were tense exchanges of blows between in-form players, Murray dominated the third in which Cilic was treated by a trainer for right leg problems after taking a tumble while chasing a lob.
Maria Sharapova reached the last eight for the first time since 2005 with a 6-4, 0-6, 6-4 victory over China's Li Na and her fellow Russian Nikolay Davydenko completed a bad day for the Spaniards, beating eighth-seeded Fernando Verdasco 6-2, 6-2, 6-4.
Davydenko, no. 10 seed, will next face Soderling.
(Xinhua News Agency June 1, 2009)