Rafael Nadal’s hopes of a record fifth successive French Open title were crushed, losing to Swede Robin Soderling 6-2, 6-7, 6-4, 7-6.
In one of the greatest upsets in the tournament’s history, the Spanish king of clay slumped to a first ever defeat at Roland Garros, having racked up 31 wins in 31 outings since his 2005 debut.
Nadal’s first set loss was the first time he had dropped a set in the tournament since the 2007 final against Roger Federer, ending a run of 32 in a row.
Soderling’s victory came just a month after he’d won only one game at the Rome Masters, his third defeat in three matches against the world number one.
But Soderling was man transformed.
The 24-year-old unleashed a formidable service game and a relentless forehand, forcing Nadal to constantly scramble for a foothold in the match.
“He didn’t surprise me because I know how he plays and how dangerous he can be,” said Nadal, who had won the Monte Carlo, Rome and Barcelona events in the run-up to Roland Garros.
“I didn’t play my best. I played very short and I couldn’t attack. I made it easy for him to play at his level,” he said.
“It’s not a tragedy, I had to lose one day. I must accept my defeats with the same level of calm that I accept my victories.”
Soderling was in tears by the end.
“I just couldn’t believe it when I won that last point,” said the Swede who has never gone this far before in a Grand Slam.
“I’m so proud of myself. This is the best win of my career against a man who is the greatest clay-court player in history.”
Soderling’s reward is a match-up with either Russian 10th seed Nikolay Davydenko or Fernando Verdasco, the eighth-seeded Spaniard, for a place in the semi-finals.