Soderling the champion-slayer of Paris

By Martyn Herman

PARIS (Reuters) - Rafael Nadal's world laid to waste last year and now Roger Federer ruthlessly put to the sword, Sweden's Robin Soderling is clearly the undisputed champion-slayer of Roland Garros.

As rain fell from a dark Parisian sky Tuesday, Soderling towered through the murk, unleashing thunderbolt serves and ferocious forehands to leave the Swiss defending champion reeling and silence a pro-Federer crowd on Court Chatrier.

His 3-6 6-3 7-5 6-4 victory was the biggest upset at the claycourt grand slam since... well 12 months ago when he ended Nadal's four-year stranglehold on the French Open with an equally destructive show of force.

Soderling had lost all 12 of his matches against Federer, including last year's final when the world number one completed a career grand slam.

Federer's loss was even more of a bombshell as he had reached the semi-final of each of the last 23 grand slams, an incredible sequence dating back to 2004 when he lost in the third round at Roland Garros to Gustavo Kuerten.

GREAT RUN

"They all come to an end at some stage," their Swiss told reporters after a lengthy wait at doping control. "You hope it doesn't happen, but they do. I mean, it was a great run. Now I've got the quarter-final streak going, I guess.

"Conditions were on the rough (side) but he came up with some great tennis," added Federer.

Fifth seed Soderling thoroughly deserved his victory, a reward for persistence if ever there was one.

He has clearly acquired a taste for battering egos.

"Of course, it's nice to beat the world number one two years in a row on the center court," Sweden's only man in the world's top 100 told reporters. "I think both times I played really good tennis. It's a great feeling.

"This is a big win, but it's not the final."

Soderling will start as favorite in his semi-final against Czech Tomas Berdych who will make a long overdue appearance in the last four of a grand slam tournament after a straight sets thrashing of Russia's Mikhail Youzhny.

HEART ATTACK

Elena Dementieva will not be treading new ground though.

The Russian fifth seed, playing in her 46th consecutive grand slam tournament, surged past a limping Nadia Petrova 2-6 6-2 6-0 in a match played out in light rain.

Dementieva, 28, runner-up at Roland Garros in 2004, will contest her ninth grand slam singles semi-final Thursday when she takes on another of the "late 20s" brigade Francesca Schiavone.

Schiavone, at 29 the oldest player to in this year's women's quarter-finals, had too much claycourt nous for Danish teen-ager Caroline Wozniacki, winning 6-2 6-3 to become the first Italian woman in the Open era to reach the last four of a grand slam.

"Heart attack," was her succinct response when asked to describe her feelings. "I think in that moment you remember many things from when you were young. It is special because it is your space, your time, your opportunity."

His opponent had other ideas, though. He sped into a 3-0 lead in the second set and when he served at 5-3 to level the match he bombarded Federer's defenses with three first serves registering 220kph plus on the speed gun.

The match hinged on the end of the third set. Federer engineered a set point at 5-4 on the Soderling serve and almost converted it with an audacious backcourt smash straight out of his box of tricks but the Swede was equal to it.

Then, after a lengthy rain break at 5-5, Soderling returned to take charge, first breaking his opponent's serve and then sealing the third set with a fizzing ace, one of 14 he fired down, that had Federer throwing his hands to the sky.

Soderling ran riot in the fourth set with a baseline blitz that had his Swiss opponent clinging on desperately but the determined Swede would not relent and raised his fist in celebration when Federer wafted a backhand over the baseline.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris)