Dangerman Soderling looms for Nadal in final

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By Martyn Herman

PARIS (Reuters) - Champion-slayer or pantomime villain, call him what you want, but Robin Soderling proved he was no one-hit wonder on Friday when advancing to the French Open final and another showdown with Rafael Nadal.

The Swede, whose cannonball serve and thunderous forehand did for crowd favorite and defending champion Roger Federer in the quarter-finals, survived a five-set fight with Czech Tomas Berdych to reach the final for the second year in a row.

Nadal, whose four-year domination of Roland Garros was ended by Soderling in the fourth round last year, stayed on course to reclaim his crown with a 6-2 6-3 7-6 victory over surprise semi-finalist Juergen Melzer of Austria.

After Federer's defeat deprived Paris folk of their dream final, at least they have got the next best thing with Nadal given the opportunity to avenge the defeat which sent his world temporarily spinning off its axis in 2009.

Not that Nadal, whose class extended well beyond his tennis on Friday, was talking it up like that. But his reaction at the end after fending off an inspired Melzer fightback showed just how much the claycourt grand slam means to him.

"I was nervous during all the tournament but today I was a little bit more relaxed because I was already in the semi-final," said Nadal, who has reached the final without dropping a set, as he did in 2007 and 2008.

"I am there. I am at the last match. I am where I dreamed to be a long time ago," he told reporters.

All that, though, would have counted for nothing had he failed to deliver in the French capital.


On Friday, as a sweltering afternoon gave way to a perfect summer evening, Nadal looked on top of his game despite going walkabout when he served for the match at 5-4 in the third set -- a game he lost with a second serve hat failed to make the net.

With the crowd wanting more, Melzer saved both match points, one with a delightful drop volley, but Nadal was not to be denied and wrapped up victory at the third time of asking.

Asked to explain the difference between this year and last, the 24-year-old Spaniard showed his sense of humor was as sharp as his forehand, even in English.

"It's impossible to compare because this time last year I was in the swimming pool in Mallorca," he said.

Victory on Sunday would make Nadal only the second man after Bjorn Borg to win five or more French Opens and would also mean he reclaims the world number one ranking from Federer.

Nadal will need no reminding about Soderling's capabilities, however.

Against Berdych he failed to reach the level he managed when sending Federer spinning out of the tournament on Tuesday but showed plenty of inner steel to recover from a mid-match slump and win 6-3 3-6 5-7 6-3 6-3.

"Today was really tough to play my own game because he didn't give me any time at all," said Soderling who made a whopping 63 unforced errors.

"The conditions were much quicker and he was hitting the ball really hard and really flat."

Soderling fended off a break point at the start of the fourth set with an ace and gradually got back on top against a tiring opponent contesting his first grand slam semi-final.

"It's unbelievable. When I came here I was only thinking about ... getting past the first round. Now, two weeks later, I am in the final again. It's better than the best dream ever," said the fifth seed.

Away from Chatrier Court, ticket holders on Suzanne Lenglen saw sisters Venus and Serena complete a Williams Slam when they beat Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik 6-2 6-3 in the women's doubles final.

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)