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PARIS (AP) — His French Open reign suddenly over, his record streak of 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals done, too, Roger Federer paused briefly as he trudged off court at dusk, acknowledging the fans' applause with a polite smile and a quick wave.
He's certainly not used to bidding adieu so soon.
Bothered by the pouring rain and his big-hitting foe, the top-seeded Federer wasted a lead and plenty of openings Tuesday, succumbing to No. 5 Robin Soderling of Sweden 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros. If Soderling's name sounds familiar, it's because he stunned four-time champion Rafael Nadal in the French Open's fourth round last year, before losing to Federer in the final.
For the first time in six years, the men's semifinals at a major tennis tournament will not involve 16-time Grand Slam champion Federer.
"They all come to an end at some stage. You hope they don't happen, but they do. It was a great run," Federer said, before injecting a little humor by adding with a wry smile: "Now I've got the quarterfinal streak going, I guess."
Look at it this way: Federer had won 117 matches in a row — 117! — in the first five rounds at majors, dating to a loss to Gustavo Kuerten in the third round at the French Open on May 29, 2004 (Federer advanced twice when opponents withdrew).
"I mean, I respect everyone, but I'm always — how do you say? — I'm honest enough to myself that I know I can win them all," said Federer, who would cede his No. 1 ranking if Nadal wins the title.
Among the many reasons why Tuesday's result was so unexpected is that Federer was 12-0 against Soderling, having won 28 of the 30 sets they'd played.
So who, exactly, would have thought Soderling could win three sets in a single day?
Well, Soderling, for one.
"Even though I lost so many times, I always have a chance to win," said the 25-year-old Soderling, who'd never been past the third round at a Grand Slam tournament until last year's French Open. "I always believe that I can win. This is a big win, but it's not the final. Still have at least one more match to play, and I don't want to celebrate too much."