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Unheralded Swede stuns Nadal short of 5th title

PARIS - For 31 matches, Rafael Nadal ruled the red clay of Roland Garros, boasting an unbeaten record and an unbreakable will.

PARIS - For 31 matches, Rafael Nadal ruled the red clay of Roland Garros, boasting an unbeaten record and an unbreakable will.

For 31 matches, this was his surface, his tournament, his time.

For 31 matches, dating from his debut May 23, 2005, Nadal never truly was challenged, much less defeated, in the French Open, allowing him to win four consecutive titles and close in on becoming the first player in history with five in a row.

Until yesterday's fourth round, when 23d-seeded Robin Soderling, a powerful 6-foot-3 Swede with an attitude, transformed Nadal's mark at Roland Garros to 31-1 with 3 1/2 hours of assertive, sometimes spectacular play.

"Well, that's the end of the road, and I have to accept it," Nadal said. "I have to accept my defeat as I accepted my victories: with calm."

Soderling's 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-4, 7-6 (2) victory over the No. 1-seeded Nadal has to be one of the biggest upsets in tennis history. Not sure? Set aside all of Nadal's bona fides for a moment - the dominance on clay, the six Grand Slam titles, including at Wimbledon and the Australian Open - and focus on this: The 24-year-old Soderling never had won so much as a third-round match in any major tournament before this one.

"I kept telling myself, 'This is just another match,' " Soderling said.

Nadal won their three previous meetings, including a contentious match at Wimbledon in 2007 and a 6-1, 6-0 rout on clay in Rome in April. But this time, Nadal was a half-step slower than usual - he tumbled in the third set, smearing clay all over his pink shirt and charcoal shorts - and Soderling was lights-out good.

Soderling finished with 61 winners, 28 more than Nadal, and won the point on 27 of 35 trips to the net.

"One of those days," Nadal said. "I had someone playing very well in front of me."

The stunning result made mere footnotes of the rest of yesterday's French Open action: reigning women's champion Ana Ivanovic's 6-2, 6-3 loss to No. 9 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus; Maria Sharapova's latest three-set victory; and the Williams sisters' loss in doubles. Second-seeded Lisa Raymond of Wayne and Kveta Peschke of the Czech Republic also went out in the third round of doubles, falling to Agnieszka and Urszula Radwanska of Poland, 6-2, 6-3.

Before his ouster, Nadal's first-round victory broke Bjorn Borg's record of 28 consecutive French Open wins by a man. In the second round, Nadal eclipsed Chris Evert's overall tournament record of 29.

"Everybody's in a state of shock, I would think," said three-time French Open champion Mats Wilander, who works with Soderling as Sweden's Davis Cup captain. "At some point, Nadal was going to lose, but nobody expected it to happen today, and maybe not this year. Now it's a matter of: There's a tournament to be won."

Seedings in parentheses.


Fourth round: Fernando Gonzalez (12), Chile, def. Victor Hanescu (30), Romania, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2. Andy Murray (3), Britain, def. Marin Cilic (13), Croatia, 7-5, 7-6 (4), 6-1. Robin Soderling (23), Sweden, def. Rafael Nadal (1), Spain, 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-4, 7-6 (2). Nikolay Davydenko (10), Russia, def. Fernando Verdasco (8), Spain, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4.


Fourth round: Dominika Cibulkova (20), Slovakia, def. Agnes Szavay (29), Hungary, 6-2, 6-4. Dinara Safina (1), Russia, def. Aravane Rezai, France, 6-1, 6-0. Victoria Azarenka (9), Belarus, def. Ana Ivanovic (8), Serbia, 6-2, 6-3. Maria Sharapova, Russia, def. Li Na (25), China, 6-4, 0-6, 6-4.


Third round: Daniel Nestor, Canada, and Nenad Zimonjic (1), Serbia, def. Christopher Kas, Germany, and Rogier Wassen, Netherlands, 6-0, 6-3. Bob and Mike Bryan (2), United States, def. Rik de Voest, South Africa, and Ashley Fisher (14), Australia, 6-3, 6-4. Marc Lopez and Tommy Robredo, Spain, def. Michael Kohlmann and Alexander Waske, Germany, 6-3, 6-4. Jose Acasuso, Argentina, and Fernando Gonzalez, Chile, def. Mahesh Bhupathi, India, and Mark Knowles (4), Bahamas, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4.


Third round: Agnieszka and Urszula Radwanska, Poland, def. Kveta Peschke, Czech Republic, and Lisa Raymond (2), United States, 6-2, 6-3. Yan Zi and Zheng Jie (16), China, def. Samantha Stosur and Rennae Stubbs (4), Australia, 6-4, 7-5. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, United States, and Nadia Petrova (10), Russia, def. Serena and Venus Williams (5), United States, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 7-6 (6).