Soderling, Nadal reach French Open final

The Sports Network

6/4/2010 1:30:50 PM

Paris, France (Sports Network) - Four-time champion Rafael Nadal and last year's runner-up Robin Soderling will battle in Sunday's men's final at the French Open.

The second-seeded former world No. 1 Nadal toppled 22nd-seeded Austrian Jurgen Melzer, playing in his first-ever Grand Slam semifinal, 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6), while the fifth-seeded Soderling outlasted 15th-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych, also playing in his first-ever major semi, 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 on Friday at Roland Garros.

Soderling shocked an injured Nadal in the fourth round here last year, which halted the Spaniard's run as the four-time champ. Nadal had been 31-0 on the famed red clay before losing to the big-hitting Swede.

"He's playing at an amazing level, very aggressive," Nadal said of Soderling. "He's a very, very dangerous player. He's one of the best of the world. It will be a difficult match."

Nadal will appear in his fifth final here in six years, seeking a fifth title. Only Bjorn Borg, with six championships, has won more French Open titles than Nadal in the Open Era (since 1968).

The powerful Nadal is a six-time major champion, including four straight French Open titles from 2005-08. He's now 37-1 lifetime at this Parisian major.

Nadal would supplant Roger Federer atop the men's rankings for a second time with a title here this 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."

The Spaniard is seeking his fourth straight championship on the tour, having recently titled at Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid, a trio of ATP Masters tournaments.

Soderling, meanwhile, will compete in his second straight Roland Garros finale. He lost to the great Federer in last year's French Open finale, but avenged that setback here this week by stunning the super Swiss in the quarterfinals.

Nadal cruised through the first two sets on Day 13, as he broke Melzer a pair of times in an easy first set and tallied two more breaks in the second. Up 5-4 and serving for the match, Nadal had a slight lapse. He lost four consecutive points, including a double-fault to give Melzer the break for 5-5.

The set went to a tiebreak after both players held serve. A missed overhead by Nadal gave Melzer a quick 2-0 lead in the tiebreak, but Nadal responded with three straight points before back-to-back errors from Melzer gave the Spaniard a pair of match points at 6-4. Melzer, though, saved both -- the second with a perfectly placed drop shot.

A forehand winner gave Nadal his third match point, which he converted when Melzer drilled a shot into the net after 2 hours, 9 minutes of tennis.

Nadal finished with five breaks, compared to only two for the loser from Austria.

The powerful Nadal, who turned 24 on Thursday, is now 3-0 lifetime against his fellow lefthander Melzer.

"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."

Soderling cruised through the first set against Berdych on Friday before the Czech returned the favor for an easy win in the second.

In the third set, Berdych broke Soderling to grab a 6-5 edge and then held his serve to surprisingly go up two-sets-to-one in their slugfest.

In set number four, the big Swede got a big break he needed to secure a 4-2 advantage and would ease his way to a set win after that.

The fifth set opened up with back-to-back breaks, but Soderling would assume control with the biggest break of the bout, as he grabbed a 4-3 lead in the deciding stanza. Soderling then held and broke again to reach a second straight final here. The Swede converted on his first match point on a sunny Friday when Berdych knocked a backhand wide to cap a lengthy match-ending rally.

"It was a great two weeks for me," Berdych said. "Every round I won here, it's a great moment."

Soderling advanced in 3 hours, 27 minutes despite being out-aced (21-18), tallying eight double faults, and recording 22 more unforced errors (63-41). The Swede did, however, have two more breaks of serve (6-4), which proved to be the difference in the end.

The 6-foot-4 Soderling is now 5-3 lifetime against the 6-foot-5 Berdych.

"I was only thinking about getting through the first round. Now, two weeks later, I'm in the final again," Soderling told the crowd at Court Chatrier. "It's better than the best dream."

Nadal is 3-2 lifetime against Soderling, including 2-1 at Grand Slams. Soderling beat Nadal in Paris a year ago, but the Spaniard topped the Swede at Roland Garros four years ago and doused Soderling at Wimbledon in 2007. Nadal's 2-1 in their clay-court encounters.

Soderling has won the last two matchups in this series.

"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."

Nadal will play in his 52nd career final (39-12) and seek a 40th overall title. He's 3-1 in his 2010 championship tilts.

The 25-year-old Soderling is 5-8 in his career ATP finals, including 1-1 this year. He titled in Rotterdam and lost in the final in Barcelona this season.

Soderling will try to give Sweden its first champion here since Mats Wilander in 1988.

Sunday's champ will collect just over $1.3 million.