Rafael Nadal gets a chance for Roland Garros revenge against the man who knocked him out a year ago when the king of clay plays for the French Open title Sunday after a 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) semi-final win over Jurgen Melzer.
Nadal will line up against Swede Robin Soderling, who outlasted Czech Tomas Berdych 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3.
Four-time champion Nadal was handed his first loss by Soderling in the fourth round a year ago.
Should Nadal win a fifth final from the last six years, he would dethrone Roger Federer from world number one with the Swiss just a week short of surpassing the Pete Sampras record of 286 weeks at the top spot.
Soderling beat Federer in the quarter-finals this week, the earliest exit for the 16-time Grand Slam winner in Paris since 2004.
“Sodering is playing good, I’ll go on court and try to play my best,” said Nadal, who almost found himself in a fourth set against the battling Melzer and had to win a tiebreak to escape with victory.
“We’ll see what happens on Sunday, it will for sure be a difficult match.” Nadal, 37-1 at Roland Garros, is keen to avenge the only blemish on his record. But Melzer served notice as Nadal served in their semi-final that he would not roll over.
The Austrian broke the Spaniard to love in the tenth game, with Nadal producing a double-fault to 5-all. Melzer saved a break point to hold and suddenly the tiebreaker loomed.
Nadal, who turned 24 Thursday, finally set up two match points -- both were saved by Melzer with a down-the-line winner and a cunning drop shot.
Nadal finally managed on his third chance as Melzer netted a forehand. “I played a so-so game at 5-4, he did well in the tiebreaker,” said Nadal “It was much better to play in the hot sun today than rain,” he said of 28 Celsius temperatures. “Playing on this court is amazing and I’m happy to be in another final.” Soderling, 2009 finalist against Federer, bids to become the first Swedish champion at Roland Garros since Mats Wilander in 1988.
The big hitter was outpaced on aces by the 21 of Berdych to 18.
“This match was more than tough,” said Soderling. “Tomas played really well, it was tough for me to play my game.
“He hit so hard, all of his returns were landing about ten centimetres from the baseline, he gave me not time to react.
Soderling is the first man to defeat defending champions at Roland Garros in consecutive years -- he beat Rafael Nadal in 2009 and Roger Federer this week -- since Wilander overcame Yannick Noah in 1984 and Ivan Lendl in 1985.
“It was tough for me last year playing my first Grand Slam final.
Hopefully it will be a little bit easier this time,” said Soderling.
“Today was really tough to really play my own game, because he didn’t give me any time at all. The conditions were much quicker.” The Swede said he never dreamed of being able to repeat his 2009 final. “I came here only thinking of the first round,” said the player whose best spring clay results was a losing Barcelona final.
“Two weeks late I’m in the final again, it’s unbelievable. It’s better than the best dream ever.”