French Open: Nadal upset
PARIS ó 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.
For 31 matches, dating to his debut on May 23, 2005, Nadal never truly was challenged, much less defeated, at 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 Sunday. Until the fourth round of the 2009 French Open. Until Robin Soderling, a 24-year-old from Sweden with a bit of an attitude and 6-foot-3 worth of power, transformed Nadal’s career mark at Roland Garros from a best-ever 31-0 to 31-1 with 31/2 hours of assertive, and 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.”
Simply put, Soderling’s 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-4, 7-6 (2) victory over the No. 1-seeded Nadal rates as one of the biggest upsets in tennis history. Not sure? Set aside all of Nadal’s bona fides ó the dominance on clay, the six Grand Slam titles, including at Wimbledon and Australian Open ó and focus on this: The 23rd-seeded Soderling never had won so much as a third-round match at any major tournament.
Nadal won all three of their previous meetings, including a contentious match at Wimbledon in 2007, and a 6-1, 6-0 rout on clay at Rome on April 30. But this time, Nadal was a half-step slower than usual.
“Everybody’s in a state of shock, I would think,” said Mats Wilander, a three-time French Open champion 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.”