Rafael Nadal’s Roland Garros record stands at 89-2 with his last defeat coming in 2015 against Novak Djokovic, but Isaac Seelochan looks back at the Spaniard’s first defeat on the Parisian clay courts.
Nobody has quite managed to dominate the clay courts of Paris like Rafael Nadal. Not even the likes of Roger Federer in his prime managed to beat the dominant Spaniard in their five meetings at Roland Garros.
Going into the 2009 French Open, Nadal was unbeaten at the tournament having won four consecutive titles and after breezing through his first three matches in straight sets, he looked on course for a fifth straight title.
On the May 31, 2009 he was set to face Swedish player Robin Soderling in the fourth round, an opponent who he had beaten with the loss of just a single game a few weeks earlier in Rome.
Such was the inevitability that Soderling would lose, that in an interview with The Telegraph, the Swede said he was asked by one journalist before the match “do you think Rafa will win the French Open again this year?”
The conditions that day were cloudy and windy, far from Nadal’s favourite to play in although that hadn’t troubled him too much in the past.
The start of the match was an indication that Nadal wasn’t himself, as Soderling broke the Spaniard’s serve in the third game of the match.
He would then break his serve again at 5-2 to win the first set, the first Nadal had lost at the event since the 2007 final against Federer.
Nadal, managed to get a break at the start of the second, but as the Spaniard served for the set at 5-4, Soderling fought back to level the set at 5-5.
After holding for a 5-6 lead, Soderling had chances to break Nadal again and take a two-set lead at 15-30, but Nadal clung on.
When he took the second set on the tie-breaker, order looked to have been restored.
But as Soderling continued to hold serve in the third set, Nadal looked more and more worried and at 3-3 the Swede broke, with the Spaniard only being able to send one of his opponent’s searing backhands long.
At this point the whole of Roland Garros was in shock. For the first time, Nadal had lost two sets in a single match at the French Open. Roger Federer would have been watching on anxiously, hoping for the Swede to finish the job, as the man who had denied him so many times at the French Open was on the brink.
The fourth set started with a break as Nadal took a 2-0 lead, but Soderling again broke straight back. It then went with serve, as Soderling continued to fend off any Nadal fightback.
The fourth set tie-break started well for Soderling as he got the mini-break to take a 2-0 lead, and although Nadal fought back to get it to 2-1, it didn’t faze him as he continued to dominate the Spaniard and raced into a 6-1 lead, and with it five match points.
Nadal saved the first, with a brilliant forehand winner, but on the second he could only manage to send another fierce Soderling backhand wide and Nadal was finally beaten at Roland Garros, going down 6-2, 6-7, (2-7), 6-4, 7-6 (7-2).
Nadal looked bewildered as he walked off the court. He even tried to sign one of the cameras, forgetting that it is not something the loser of the match does.
Soderling would go on to lose to Federer in the final that year, and he fell again at the last hurdle a year later to Nadal, who ensured that lighting didn’t strike twice.
Nadal has only lost one other match at the French Open since, to Novak Djokovic in 2015, but it will be his loss to Soderling which will be remembered as the day where (albeit temporarily) the King of Clay was dethroned.
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