Söderling sent crashing out of French Open by Nadal

Defending champion Rafael Nadal bludgeoned bitter Roland Garros rival Robin Söderling to defeat on Wednesday as the world number one reached the French Open semi-finals with a 6-4, 6-1, 7-6 (7/3) victory.

Söderling sent crashing out of French Open by Nadal

The top seeded Spaniard, hoping to emulate the great Bjorn Borg as a six-time Paris champion, will tackle British fourth seed Andy Murray for a place in the final.

It was Nadal’s second successive French Open win over fifth seed Söderling after his victory in the 2010 final had avenged his stunning fourth round defeat to the Swede the year before, still Nadal’s only loss in Paris against 43 wins.

Despite being on the verge of losing his world number one spot to Novak Djokovic, who he could yet meet in Sunday’s title match, Nadal shook off the shackles which had restricted his performances in the earlier rounds.

Söderling, for his part, was undone by 41 unforced errors.

“I played a very tough opponent. I’m happy I’m through to the semis,” said Nadal.

“I was much better than in previous matches. I was more solid and Robin made more mistakes than usual.”

Nadal was 3-0 up with a double break in the first set, the second of which was created by a sweet backhand pass, picked off his toes.

Söderling, the runner-up in 2009 and 2010, clawed back one of the breaks but Nadal, mixing breathtaking defence and accuracy from the back of court, got the best of a series of gruelling, rallies to take the 49-minute opener.

The energy sapped from the big, 26-year-old Swede in the second set.

He was broken three times while Nadal, comfortably playing his best tennis of the tournament, allowed him just three points on his own service while committing only two unforced errors.

Nothing illustrated Nadal’s renewed sense of purpose more than at 30-30 in the first game of the third set.

Twice he had to stretch to hit defensive backhands from behind the baseline before sprinting to prod back a Söderling drop shot. Despite being off-balance, the 24-year-old still managed to execute a winning smash.

Söderling was broken to trail 0-2 in the next game before he took advantage of a sloppy Nadal service game to retrieve the break.

That spured him into a new lease of life and Nadal was forced to fight off three break points in a tense 11th game, secured by a wrong-footing forehand after another punishing rally.

Söderling was 0-30 down in the 12th game but his big serve got him out of trouble as the tie break loomed.

But Nadal went to three match points in the breaker, courtesy of a sweeping forehand down-the-line winner, and took victory when Söderling netted a forehand.

In Friday’s other semi-final second seed Djokovic, on a 43-match winning streak, faces 2009 champion and second seed Roger Federer.

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Is this the end of the road for Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer?

Roger Federer is talking optimistically about returning to his "highest level" after knee surgery, but does tennis have to start adjusting to a future without the Swiss star?

Is this the end of the road for Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer?
Is it the end of the line for Roger? Photo: Martin BUREAU / AFP

The 20-time Grand Slam winner announced on Wednesday that he would be sidelined until 2021 after his second operation in a matter of months.

Federer remains upbeat, tweeting: “I plan to take the necessary time to be 100 percent ready to play at my highest level.”

In some ways 2020 is a good season to miss after the coronavirus ravaged the tennis schedule. Writing Federer off in the past has proved dangerous.

He returned from a six-month injury lay-off to claim the Australian Open in 2017, winning his eighth Wimbledon crown later that year.

But he will be 40 in 2021 and is now heading into uncharted territory.

Despite his groaning trophy cabinet, there are two factors that will motivate Federer to keep going — the risk of losing his grip on the men's Grand Slam title record and a missing Olympics singles gold medal.

Rafael Nadal has 19 majors, just one shy of Federer's mark and Djokovic has 17.

Spain's Nadal will be fancied to draw level with Federer at the French Open, rescheduled for September, while few would bet against Djokovic winning in New York weeks earlier.

In April, Federer said he was “devastated” when Wimbledon was cancelled for the first time since World War II. Last year he fell agonisingly short at the All England Club, failing to convert two championship points on his own serve against Djokovic.

The Wimbledon grass probably remains his best chance of adding to his Grand Slam collection — he has not won the US Open since 2008 and his only title at Roland Garros came in 2009.

Even though Federer has slipped from the very pinnacle of the game, he is still a major threat to Nadal and Djokovic.

'Golden' ambitions

Last year, the world number four had a 53-10 win-loss record and he reached the semi-finals at the Australian Open in January in his only tournament this year.

Federer, who is still six ATP titles short of Jimmy Connors' all-time record of 109, has one glaring omission from his CV — the Olympic title.

The Swiss won doubles gold in Beijing in 2008 with compatriot Stan Wawrinka but lost in the singles final to Andy Murray in London four years later.

The postponed Tokyo Games will almost certainly be Federer's last opportunity to complete a career “golden” Grand Slam — he will turn 40 on the day of the closing ceremony next year.

Tennis will feel the loss of the elegant Federer keenly when he walks off the court for the last time.

Djokovic and Nadal have been the dominant forces in recent years but the Swiss remains the biggest draw and last month topped Forbes' list of the world's highest-earning athletes.

His last appearance on court was in front of nearly 52,000 fans — touted by organisers as a world record for tennis — at a charity match against Nadal in Cape Town in February.

Federer is nearly always the crowd favourite wherever he plays and has proved a perfect ambassador for the sport since he won his first Grand Slam title in 2003.

He certainly expects to be back and competitive next year.

“I will be missing my fans and the tour dearly but I will look forward to seeing everyone back on tour at the start of the 2021 season,” he tweeted.

The avalanche of support from his adoring fans showed they would miss him too, but they will have to get used to a time when he is gone for good.