- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 31, 2009

— Rafael Nadal’s unbeaten run at the French Open is over.

The four-time defending champion lost to Robin Soderling of Sweden 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-4, 7-6 (2) on Sunday in the fourth round, ending his record 31-match winning streak at Roland Garros.

Soderling, seeded 23rd at this year’s tournament, ran Nadal ragged on center court with his hard serve and booming forehand.

“When one player plays bad, [he] must lose,” Nadal said. “[It] was my fault. … I didn’t play my best tennis and for that reason I lose.”

Nadal has dominated the French Open since his first match on the red clay at Roland Garros. In his 31 previous matches, he had lost only seven sets - the last one coming against Roger Federer in the 2007 final.

“He can’t feel good right now,” said Soderling, who called Nadal “the greatest clay-court player of all time.”

Defending women’s champion Ana Ivanovic also lost, while top-seeded Dinara Safina advanced to the quarterfinals with another easy win.

Also on the men’s side, No. 3 Andy Murray of Britain and No. 12 Fernando Gonzalez of Chile made the quarterfinals.

Soderling finished with 59 unforced errors, more than twice as many as Nadal’s 28, but the Swede’s 30 forehand winners made up some ground on the top-ranked Spaniard.

“He didn’t surprise me because I know how he plays and how dangerous he can be,” said Nadal, who said he failed to attack Soderling. “I didn’t play aggressive.”

The last time two defending champions lost in the same round at a Grand Slam tournament was in 2004 when Justine Henin and Juan Carlos Ferrero lost in the second round of the French Open.

Nadal had won three of the last four major titles, missing out only on the U.S. Open. After winning the Australian Open, he had a chance to complete a Grand Slam this year.

Defending his Wimbledon title will be Nadal’s next major goal, but that will come after a little rest and relaxation.

“Right now, my preparation is for the swimming pool at my house,” joked Nadal, who was also trying to become the first man to win five straight French Open titles. “Give me three more days.”

The draw has now opened up for three-time finalist Roger Federer. The former No. 1 needs only to win the French Open title to complete a career Grand Slam, and his road got clearer Saturday when potential semifinal opponent Novak Djokovic was eliminated.

The eighth-seeded Ivanovic did little right on Court Suzanne Lenglen, converting only two of five break points and making 20 unforced errors in her 6-2, 6-3 loss to Victoria Azarenka of Belarus.

Before the final game of the first set, Ivanovic called for a trainer to look at her neck. Azarenka then held to take the lead, and broke Ivanovic’s serve in the first and third games of the second set to take a 4-0 lead.

“I started really well, and I felt really good in the beginning. Then after the third game, actually after (the) first point in the fourth game, I just suddenly started feeling so dizzy, and I completely lost my balance,” said Ivanovic, who won her only Grand Slam tournament title at last year’s French Open.

“Ever since then it was really hard. I struggled with looking up. I started feeling very dizzy, and I was struggling a little bit to find my balance.”

The 19-year-old Azarenka lost in the fourth round at Roland Garros last year, and will next be playing in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time.

Safina had a much easier time on center court, advancing to the quarterfinals with a 6-1, 6-0 win over Aravane Rezai of France.

The top-seeded Russian won 11 straight games to close out the match. She has lost only five games through four rounds, and has won four of the eight sets she has played at love.

“I’m just surprised that it’s really like five games that I lost before getting into the quarters,” Safina said. “It’s not a bad feeling, and I hope if I continue like this I can go a long way.”

Safina took over the No. 1 ranking this year, but she has yet to win a Grand Slam title. She lost to Ivanovic in last year’s French Open final, and fell to Serena Williams in this year’s Australian Open title match.

No. 20 Dominika Cibulkova advanced by beating No. 29 Agnes Szavay of Hungary 6-2, 6-4 in a sloppy match that had a combined 17 winners and 66 unforced errors.

“I felt like I was going to cry because I was just so happy,” Cibulkova said of how she felt after winning match point. “This moment - for this, I play tennis, for these moments.”

Back on the men’s side, Gonzalez became the first player to reach the quarterfinals, beating Victor Hanescu of Romania 6-2, 6-4, 6-2, and Murray soon followed with a 7-5, 7-6 (4), 6-1 win over No. 13 Marin Cilic of Croatia.

Gonzalez, who reached the 2007 Australian Open final, ended the match with his 21st forehand winner. He finished with 50 winners and only 16 unforced errors.

“I tried to win every point,” said Gonzalez, who will face Murray in the next round. “And then I’m trying to not be risky if I don’t need it. Maybe I got a break, and then I can start to hit my huge shots. … When I have to use my shot, I use it, because I know I’m going to win the match with my forehand and my serve.”

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