Shell-shocked Roger Federer’s mood was as dark as the Paris gloom on Tuesday as his dreams of a second French Open success were crushed by Swedish sledgehammer Robin Soderling.
One year on from condemning four-time champion Rafael Nadal to a first career defeat at Roland Garros, Soderling was back to his gatecrashing best, sending 14 aces and 19 forehand winners flashing past the world number one.
But Federer, with 16 Grand Slam titles under his belt, insisted his European claycourt swing had been badly affected by the weather with the damp, heavy conditions here virtually identical to those he endured in early losses in Estoril and Rome in April.
His lack of serving strength also played a part in his stunning 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 quarter-final loss which brought to an end his record, six-year run of 23 successive Grand Slam semi-finals appearances.
“He played really well for almost an entire match. I’m not blaming the conditions, but I think they were in his favour towards the end,” explained Federer, who had defeated the Swede 12 times in 12 meetings before Tuesday’s fateful clash.
That record also included a straight sets victory in last year’s final here. “These were serious, tough conditions. If you serve 225kmh, 230, you can still hit through the court on the serve,” added Federer, after suffering his earliest Grand Slam exit since losing in the third round to Gustavo Kuerten here in 2004.
“I may be lacking those 5 to 10ks extra on the serve to hit through a guy, but that’s the way conditions are. I can’t complain, because it was the same for both of us.
“But of course I’m disappointed to have lost three matches in the rain on clay this season – in Estoril, in Rome, and now here again. So I just couldn’t come up with the plays when I had to today.”
Federer believes the 25-year-old Swede, whose pinpoint placement out on Court Philippe Chatrier reaped rich rewards, relished the conditions.
The poor weather, which has plagued most of the tournament, even caused a 75-minute rain interruption with the players locked at 5-5 in the third set.
On the resumption, Federer won just four more games.
“I don’t mind slow clay. When it gets rainy, it’s tough. Not only for me, but for the opponent too,” said Federer.
“It’s hard. Your mind starts wandering. The tough conditions favoured him, but I really felt like he played great. He was able to hit consistently through the ball, and on the offensive put them close to the lines.
Soderling, who will face the Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych on Friday for a place in the final, admitted that he enjoyed the testing, damp environment.
“The balls got heavy. I have played good matches in these kind of conditions in the past, and I think it suits my game pretty well,” said Soderling.
“It was a little bit slower, but I managed to serve really well and take the ball early. It helped me a lot.”