Nadal five-title dream crushed by Soderling sledgehammer
Rafael Nadal's hopes of a record fifth successive French Open title were crushed into the Roland Garros red dust by Robin Soderling's Swedish sledgehammer on Sunday.
In one of the greatest upsets in the history of the tournament, the Spanish king of clay slumped to a first ever defeat here having racked up 31 wins in 31 outings since his 2005 debut.
Soderling's stunning 6-2, 6-7 (2/7), 6-4, 7-6 (7/2) fourth round victory came just a month after he'd won only one game in a 6-1, 6-0 rout at the Rome Masters, his third defeat in three matches against the world number one.
But he was a man transformed on Sunday with the 24-year-old unleashing a formidable service game and a relentless, pinpoint accurate forehand which forced Nadal to constantly scramble for a foothold in the match.
"He didn't surprise me because I know how he plays and how dangerous he can be," said Nadal who had won the Monte Carlo, Rome and Barcelona events in the run-up to Roland Garros.
"I didn't play my best. I played very short and I couldn't attack. I made it easy for him to play at his level. But I lost.
"It's not a tragedy, I had to lose one day. I must accept my defeats with the same level of calm that I accept my victories."
Soderling was in tears by the end.
"I just couldn't believe it when I won that last point," said the Swede who has never gone this far before in a Grand Slam.
"I'm so proud of myself. This is the best win of my career against a man who is the greatest claycourt player in history."
Nadal's first set loss was the first time he had dropped a set in the tournament since the 2007 final against Roger Federer, ending a run of 32 in a row.
The Spaniard was reeling from the outset at the hands of a man whom he'd accused of being one of the most unpopular players in the locker room after an acrimonious Wimbledon clash two years ago.
Nadal was broken in the fourth game as 23rd seeded Soderling went to 4-1 ahead and again in the crucial eighth as the free-flowing, uninhibited Swede continued to find the corners with devastating accuracy.
The 24-year-old deservedly claimed the opening set when the champion netted a backhand.
Nadal, despite missing his usual fluency and rattled by the unrelenting assault, broke for the first time to lead 2-1 in the second set only to surrender his advantage in the 10th game.
With most people inside Court Philippe Chatrier expecting a Nadal drive to fly past the big Swede, Soderling executed a fine backhand volley to go to 5-5.
Despite those heroics, Nadal ran away with the tiebreaker to level the match when, for once, Soderling's forehand missed its target and flew long.
The Swede, coached by compatriot and 2000 finalist Magnus Norman, refused to yield, breaking to lead 4-3 before backing it up for a 5-3 advantage in the third set.
He took the set when Nadal netted another weary forehand off yet another deep Soderling drive.
Nadal broke to lead 2-0 in the fourth set, but Soderling hit back immediately as another tiebreak loomed where the gallant Swede clinched his famous win on a second match point when Nadal went wide with a pick-up.
Soderling sent down nine aces in the match and fired a decisive 61 winners to the Spaniard's 33.
His reward is a match-up with either Russian 10th seed Nikolay Davydenko or Fernando Verdasco, the eighth-seeded Spaniard for a place in the semi-finals.
Sunday's drama would have delighted Roger Federer, who has lost the last three finals to Nadal, and who still needs a French Open to complete a career Grand Slam.
He plays his last 16 tie on Monday against Germany's Tommy Haas.