For the second year in succession Robin Soderling triggered the tennis equivalent of an earthquake here last night when he knocked Roger Federer out of the French Open. The greatest player in the history of the game had played in the semi-finals of 23 Grand Slam tournaments in succession but had no answer to the power of the man he had beaten in last year's final. Soderling won 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.
Just as he did in beating Nadal in the fourth round last year, Soderling bludgeoned Federer into submission with his booming serve and pounding ground strokes. The quarter-final victory avenged the Swede's defeat in the final last year and was his first in their 13 meetings.
Federer's reign as world No 1 could be over by Monday. Had he reached the semi-finals, Federer would have been certain to equal Pete Sampras' record of 286 weeks at the top, but Nadal will reclaim that spot if he wins his fifth French Open title on Sunday.
The Swiss has defied those who have written him off in the past, particularly after Nadal took his Wimbledon crown and No 1 ranking two summers ago, but he will appreciate the significance of this defeat. Federer's Grand Slam semi-final record – he last failed to make the last four when he was beaten by Gustavo Kuerten in the third round here six years ago – was one of the most remarkable runs in sport.
Federer felt the cold and wet conditions, which were similar to last year's final, favoured Soderling's big-hitting game but was philosophical in defeat. "All good things come to an end," he said with a smile when asked about his run in semi-finals. "Now I've got the quarter-final streak going, I guess."
Soderling, who faces Tomas Berdych in the semi-finals, arrived here 12 months ago with a reputation as a journeyman, but recorded one of the biggest shocks in history when he beat Nadal, who had never lost in 31 previous matches on these courts.
Since going on to reach the final, in which he lost to Federer in straight sets, the Swede has made solid progress and climbed to No 7 in the world rankings, without coming close to matching his Roland Garros exploits. He lost to Federer again at both Wimbledon and the US Open and was beaten by Marcel Granollers, the world No 113, in the Australian Open.
Federer had not lost a set in his first four matches and did not look in trouble when he took the first here in 32 minutes. Soderling, who took time to find rhythm on his serve, was broken in the eighth game when he missed a routine volley.
The Swede levelled the match after breaking at the start of the second set. By now he was matching Federer punch for punch. He served consistently, at up to 140mph, and hit his ground strokes with huge power. Federer, repeatedly hurried into his shots, made an increasing number of errors.
In the third set Soderling saved a set point at 4-5 with a backhand smash. With Federer serving at 30-15 in the next game rain stopped play. When the players returned an hour and a quarter later Soderling broke serve and took the set with an ace.
Federer led 2-0 in the fourth, but Soderling broke back immediately. At 3-3 there was another rain stoppage, but this time they resumed within four minutes. Federer immediately had to save three break points, but the Swedish juggernaut was unstoppable and Soderling broke to lead 5-4 when the Swiss missed a backhand. A service winner on his first match point completed the rout.
"As soon as I arrived in Paris, when I came to this court I felt confident," Soderling said as he left Court Philippe Chatrier. "This is my favourite Grand Slam, this court is great and to play the world No 1 on this court – it could not get much better."
Federer did not think he had played badly but said Soderling had played "some great tennis". He added: "He played aggressively and kept on coming. When the conditions got more heavy when we came back from the rain delay, he played well. I'm not blaming the conditions, but I think they were in his favour towards the end."
Soderling could meet Nadal in the final. Nadal faces Nicolas Almagro in the quarter-finals today and might then have to beat Novak Djokovic, while Soderling must overcome Andy Murray's conqueror, Berdych, a 6-3, 6-1, 6-2 winner over Mikhail Youzhny.
Francesca Schiavone became the first Italian woman in the Open era to reach a Grand Slam semi-final when she beat Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 6-3. She now plays Elena Dementieva, who beat Nadia Petrova, her fellow Russian, 2-6, 6-2, 6-0.
Britain's Oliver Golding went out of the boys' singles but played some excellent tennis against Brazil's Tiago Fernandes, the Australian Open junior champion, before going down 6-2, 7-6. Golding, 16, led 3-0 in the second set and twice came within two points of levelling the match.
Some girl players 'go with every guy' claims Robson
The Women's Tennis Association is to study the transcript of an interview given by Laura Robson after Britain's former Wimbledon junior champion reportedly said some of her fellow professional players were "sluts".
In an interview with Vogue magazine, 16-year-old Robson was reported to have said: "Some of the tennis girls, they're sluts. They go with every guy and make such a bad name for themselves – and you don't want to be known for stuff like that. You want to be more discreet."
Andrew Walker, senior vice-president of the WTA tour, said yesterday: "We are aware of Laura Robson's reported comments to Vogue UK along with her statement that the comments were taken out of context. We understand that an actual transcript of her remarks exists and we will review it carefully as soon as we receive it. Until then, we have nothing further to add."