Friday, June 4, 2010
Nadal to face Soderling in final
ESPN.com news services
PARIS -- All that stands between Rafael Nadal and a fifth French Open title is the only player ever to beat him at Roland Garros.
Nadal and Robin Soderling won their semifinals Friday to set up a tantalizing rematch. Soderling pulled off a stunner when they met in the fourth round last year, and the upset remains Nadal's lone loss in 38 French Open matches.
"It's always good to have beaten a player before," Soderling said. "I know that I can beat him. I showed it. But every match is a new match, and every match is different."
Soderling, runner-up to Roger Federer in 2009, returned to the final by sweeping the last four games to overtake No. 15-seeded Tomas Berdych 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3.
Nadal then beat No. 22 Jurgen Melzer 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (6).
Soderling has a knack for upsets in Paris -- he beat Federer in the quarterfinals this week -- and he'll be an underdog again Sunday.
The No. 2-seeded Nadal has won all 18 sets in this year's tournament, and he's 21-0 on clay in 2010. He seeks to become the second man to win at least five French Open titles. Bjorn Borg won six.
Should Nadal win, he'll reclaim the No. 1 ranking from Federer next week.
"Believe me, if I win on Sunday, it's going to be the last thing I think," Nadal said. "The important thing is the tournament."
Nadal is bidding for his seventh Grand Slam title. But Soderling's big serve and forehand make him dangerous, as he showed against Berdych.
"He's playing at an amazing level, very aggressive," Nadal said. "He's a very, very dangerous player. He's one of the best of the world. It will be a difficult match."
Venus and Serena Williams won their fourth consecutive Grand Slam doubles title and 12th overall by beating Katarina Srebotnik and Kveta Peschke 6-2, 6-3.
First-time Grand Slam finalists Samantha Stosur and Francesca Schiavone play for the title in women's singles Saturday.
Temperatures in the low 80s made for fast court conditions in the men's semifinals, and the first match quickly developed into a slugfest between two of the hardest hitters in tennis, Soderling and Berdych. Most points were short, and rallies were usually restricted to big swings from the backcourt, with few slices, drop shots, lobs or volleys.
The No. 5-seeded Soderling hit 18 aces, 62 winners and 63 unforced errors. Berdych hit 21 aces, 42 winners and 41 unforced errors.
"It was really tough to play my game," Soderling said, "because he was hitting so hard."
Soderling's only other Grand Slam final was at Roland Garros last year.
"I was only thinking about getting through the first round. Now two weeks later, I'm in the final again," Soderling told the crowd after his win. "It's better than the best dream."
Like Berdych, Melzer was a first-time Grand Slam semifinalist, and the Austrian was overmatched from the baseline. His double-fault gave Nadal the first service break at love in the sixth game, and the Spaniard seized control of the match.
"I played my best match today here at Roland Garros 2010," Nadal said. "With my serve I played all the time well, and with the forehand, too."
There were few long rallies, and Nadal won almost all of them, forcing Melzer to play high-risk tennis. But the Austrian dug in late in the final set, and a rare lapse by Nadal briefly extended the match.
Nadal served for the victory at 5-4 but was broken at love. When he double-faulted to lose the game, he smiled ruefully, bit his lip and shook his head.
"I was a little bit nervous," Nadal said. "I had one double-fault -- that's the only point I'm unhappy with."
The crowd roared at Nadal's stumble, wanting more tennis, and Melzer pushed the set to a tiebreaker, where he erased two match points before smacking his final shot into the net. A grinning Nadal celebrated with a running leap across his favorite stage, bound for another final.
In the Soderling-Berdych marathon, five sets of swinging from the heels came down to the last three games. Serving at 3-all in the final set, Berdych fell behind love-30 and tried a rare drop shot, but Soderling dashed forward and scooped out a backhand winner. Two points later, Berdych dumped a backhand in the net to lose serve.
Soderling rallied from love-30 to hold for 5-3. Then, on the second point of the next game, he dashed from one sideline to the other to whack his running forehand past Berdych.
"Greatest shot of the match," said fellow Swede and three-time French Open champion Mats Wilander.
Match point came moments later, and when Berdych pushed a weary backhand wide, Soderling covered his face with his hands as his accomplishment sunk in.
It was only the fifth five-set win in the Swede's career.
The first service break of the match came in the fourth game, when Berdych clipped the net with a second serve. He soon had lost a set for the first time in the tournament.
But Soderling wobbled, missing with his forehand and losing serve twice in the third set. The second break made it 6-5, and the usually impassive Swede slammed his racket to the court. In the next game Berdych served out the set with four aces, the last at 139 mph.
It was Soderling's turn to rally. He managed the lone break in the fourth set and evened the match after nearly three hours in the sun.
Berdych faded at the finish, but found consolation in reaching his first Grand Slam semifinal.
"It was a great two weeks for me," the big Czech said. "Every round I won here, it's a great moment."