Federer’s Semifinal Streak Over

20:58 Thu 03 Jun 2010
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One of the most amazing streaks in sports history ended Tuesday, when Robin Söderling beat Roger Federer in the French Open quarterfinals. 23 straight appearances in semifinals or better. The last time Federer failed to make the semifinals of a Grand Slam was at the French Open in 2004. Six years ago. Near the end of George W. Bush’s first term.

Federer also owns the longest quarterfinals streak, which is still alive; the second-best active streak is Novak Djokovic’s four.

It took at lot to end it. An extremely strong opponent on a hot streak but not ranked high enough to be top four (Söderling is seeded fifth). Conditions that helped Söderling more than Federer. Some bad luck (a number of close calls near the end of the third set that were critical). A mentally strong opponent who never succumbed to the “he’s Roger Federer and I’m not” feeling, and who maintained focus—well enough to execute a difficult backhand smash after Federer pulled off yet another insane overhead sweep/get. Finally, a day when Federer couldn’t summon his best, particularly in terms of staying ahead. Historically one of the game’s best front-runners, recently Federer’s had a lot of trouble closing the door, and that hurt him against Söderling just as it did against Del Potro at the US Open.

That’s not to take anything away from Söderling, who played extremely well. Many, many players have gone into matches against Federer with similar plans: serve well, hit hard, pressure the backhand, go for winners when the opportunity presents itself. But very few of them could maintain that in the face of Federer’s skill for three sets, and Söderling did.

Söderling has now earned the distinction of breaking Rafael Nadal’s French Open winning streak and Roger Federer’s semifinal streak. Quite a pair of accomplishments. He has a good chance of winning the whole thing, as long as he can keep his head and remember that Federer, for all his greatness, was merely one obstacle between Söderling and the title. Next up is Berdych, a matchup that will feature two streaking players who hit the ball extremely hard. On the other side of the draw, Novak Djokovic coughed up a two-set lead over Juergen Melzer, who I strongly suspect will prove no match for Rafael Nadal. If Nadal faces Berdych, I think Nadal will take it. If it’s Nadal–Söderling, that’s a fascinating and tough to call final, and I think I’d give Söderling a minor edge.

Incidentally, if Söderling wins, another amazing Federer streak is kept alive, one that has also run since Wimbledon 2004: 23 straight Grand Slams have been won either by Federer or the player who beat Federer.

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