PARIS - His French Open reign suddenly over, his record streak of 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals done, too, Roger Federer paused briefly as he trudged off court at dusk, acknowledging the fans' applause with a polite smile and a quick wave.
He's certainly not used to bidding adieu so soon.
Bothered by the pouring rain and his big-hitting foe, the top-seeded Federer wasted a lead and plenty of openings yesterday, succumbing to No. 5 Robin Soderling, of Sweden, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4, in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros. If Soderling's name sounds familiar, it's because he stunned four-time champion Rafael Nadal in the French Open's fourth round last year, before losing to Federer in the final.
For the first time in 6 years, the men's semifinals at a major tennis tournament will not involve 16-time Grand Slam champion Federer.
"They all come to an end at some stage. You hope they don't happen, but they do. It was a great run," Federer said, before injecting a little humor by adding with a wry smile: "Now I've got the quarterfinal streak going, I guess."
Look at it this way: Federer had won 117 matches in a row - 117! - in the first five rounds at majors, dating to a loss to Gustavo Kuerten in the third round at the French Open on May 29, 2004 (Federer advanced twice when opponents withdrew).
"I mean, I respect everyone, but I'm always - how do you say? - I'm honest enough to myself that I know I can win them all," said Federer, who would cede his No. 1 ranking if Nadal wins the title.
Among the many reasons why the result was so unexpected is that Federer was 12-0 against Soderling, having won 28 of the 30 sets they'd played.
So who, exactly, would have thought Soderling could win three sets in a single day?
Well, Soderling, for one.
"Even though I lost so many times, I always have a chance to win," said the 25-year-old Soderling, who'd never been past the third round at a Grand Slam tournament until last year's French Open. "I always believe that I can win. This is a big win, but it's not the final. Still have at least one more match to play, and I don't want to celebrate too much."
The crowd cheered loudly for Federer, cheering each point he won - and jeering Soderling whenever he questioned line calls. Federer broke to go up 2-0 in the fourth set, but just when it seemed he was restoring order, just when it seemed Soderling might crack, that momentum stalled.
Federer missed three shots to help Soderling break back. Then, after a brief rain break, Federer made three unforced errors in a game to get broken again. Ahead 5-4, Soderling served out the match, then walked to the net, pounding his fist on his chest.
Asked which victory was bigger - over Nadal in 2009 or Federer in 2010 - Soderling said, "It's a tough question. They're both big wins, of course."
Soderling's next match will be in Friday's semifinals against No. 15 Tomas Berdych, of the Czech Republic. Still, Soderling has every right to relish what he's already accomplished: He is the first man to beat the French Open defending champion in consecutive years since another Swede, Mats Wilander, did it in 1984-85.
Nadal was 31-0 in the French Open until losing to Soderling.
"He's obviously not afraid of the big moment - or afraid of the big guys," Wilander said about his countryman. "He's not intimidated."
Federer gave Soderling credit for playing well, but also said he thought the damp conditions favored the underdog's style.
"He was able to hit consistently through the ball on the offensive and put them close to the lines," Federer said, "and that's something that was impressive."
As for his own play, Federer said, "I just missed too many chances today."
Berdych advanced to his first Grand Slam semifinal by beating No. 11 Mikhail Youzhny, of Russia, 6-3, 6-1, 6-2. In today's men's quarterfinals, Nadal meets No. 19 Nicolas Almagro, of Spain, and No. 3 Novak Djokovic, of Serbia, faces No. 22 Jurgen Melzer, of Austria.