Soderling finally puts an end to Federer hoodoo

FRENCH Open giant killer Robin Soderling insisted he never stopped believing he could end his hoodoo against Roger Federer after finally toppling the defending champion last night.

Soderling followed up last year’s historic Roland Garros victory over king of clay Rafael Nadal by ending Federer’s run of 23 straight grand slam semi-final appearances.

It was very much unlucky 13 for the Swiss, who had won all 12 of his previous competitive meetings with Soderling but went down 3-6 6-3 7-5 6-4 in a rain-hit two-and-a-half hours on Philippe Chatrier Court.

The victory was also vengeance for Soderling’s defeat in last year’s final against Federer, whose last defeat prior to the semi-final stage of a major came at the same tournament six years ago.

Fifth seed Soderling went into yesterday’s match as the only player on tour to have faced Federer on more than 10 occasions and lost every time. His dozen defeats had also seen him claim just two sets from the world number one, although one of those did come at last year’s US Open and he did beat Federer in an exhibition in Abu Dhabi in January.

“I think even though I lost so many times, I always had a chance to win,” the 25-year-old Soderling said.

“I came close a couple of times before and I feel one or two times that I’ve actually been a little bit unlucky. “With a little bit of luck, I could have won.”

Insisting he was not superstitious despite yesterday being his 13th attempt to beat Federer, Soderling added: “Losing so many times, I think you will come closer to a win eventually. I’m really glad that I won here in a grand slam and not in a smaller tournament – even though a win against Federer, it’s always big.”

Soderling, who last year became the first man ever to beat Nadal at Roland Garros when the Spaniard was the sport’s supreme player, added: “Of course, it is nice to beat the world number one two years in a row on centre court.”

Asked about Federer’s remarkable run of last-four appearances, Soderling said: “It’s certainly not easy playing 23 or 24 consecutive semi-finals, which is just huge.”

Soderling was rewarded for a fearless approach in what was a high-octane affair that saw both men race through the points. He also coped much better than his illustrious opponent with what were treacherous conditions.

Light rain dogged much of the match and there were two delays when it got too heavy to continue, the first lasting more than an hour towards the end of the third set. When play resumed, Federer’s level dropped and Soderling took full advantage.

“I think when I won the second set, which was very big for me, I really felt that I could relax a little bit,” he said. “After that, I think I started to play better and better.”

Federer claimed his defeat was easier to handle because he felt he had played well.

He said: “I’m disappointed to a certain degree. I didn’t think I played a bad match, so it’s easier to go out this way. Conditions obviously were on the rougher side for both of us, and I thought he came up with some great tennis. “So it’s much easier to digest this way.”

Francesca Schiavone insisted words could not describe the emotion she felt at reaching her first grand slam semi-final after producing arguably the most complete performance of this year’s French Open to stun Caroline Wozniacki.

Roland Garros saw its queen dethroned when Justine Henin suffered a shock defeat on Monday, but 17th seed Schiavone played like her heir apparent on Philippe Chatrier Court yesterday, her all-court game simply too much for teenager Wozniacki. Schiavone won 6-2 6-3 in one hour 20 minutes to become the first Italian woman to reach the last four of a major in the Open era. The 29-year-old got past the first week of each of the previous three grand slams before arriving in Paris but she had not been in the last eight at Roland Garros for nine years.

In stark contrast to Schiavone, opponent Elena Dementieva will be contesting her ninth grand slam semi-final. Her error-strewn match with Petrova could not have been more different either, a real case of survival of the fittest as both players struggled with leg injuries picked up earlier.

Dementieva capitalised on her fellow Russian’s discomfort to win 2-6 6-2 6-0 in two hours and six minutes. The 28-year-old two-time grand slam finalist was runner-up at Roland Garros in 2004.

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