Nadal Sets Up Soderling Re-Match; Bidding For Fifth Title & Return To No. 1
by James Buddell|
The second-seeded Spaniard extended his winning streak to 21 matches on clay courts this year after he defeated No. 22 seed Jurgen Melzer of Austria 6-2, 6-3, 7-6(6) in the semi-finals on Friday. It marked the third time that Nadal has reached the final in the French capital without dropping a set and the fifth time overall at a major championship.
"I think I played my best match today," said Nadal. "With my serve I played well all the time [and] the forehand too. With [my] backhand I am playing better and better every day."
Nadal will now look to avenge last year's fourth round defeat to fifth-seeded Swede Robin Soderling in Sunday's final, when he bids to win his seventh Grand Slam championship title (6-2 overall record). Soderling battled past No. 15 seed Tomas Berdych earlier on Friday. Read Match Report
"[Soderling] came back [today] to win a very good match," said Nadal. "He's [a] very, very dangerous player. He's one of the best in the world. Sure it's going to be a really difficult match.
"I know how I have to play to beat him, but I'm not speaking about tactics. I have to play my best tennis, and that's what I going to try to do. I never believe in revenge. I try my best in every moment, and if I lose, I lose."
Melzer came out swinging and was full of confidence in the first all left-handed Roland Garros semi-final since 1992. But two unforced errors and one forehand winner from Nadal saw Melzer drop to 0/40 in the sixth game, which Nadal won courtesy of a double fault.
Nadal, who celebrated his 24th birthday on Thursday, forced Melzer to change his tactics in the second set. The 29 year old started to serve and volley, but fell to 1-3 when Nadal hit a crosscourt forehand pass. Although he bounced back immediately by breaking Nadal's serve to 30, Melzer again found himself on the receiving end of a top-spin barrage. The pressure proved too great and Nadal moved into a two sets lead after 72 minutes.
Nadal broke to love at the start of the third set but Melzer, who had never before gone beyond the third round at a Grand Slam championship prior to this year's tournament, kept fighting and was rewarded when Nadal served for the match at 5-4. Melzer levelled the score after Nadal hit a double fault on the first of his three break point opportunities.
In a gripping tie-break, eight points went against serve before Nadal clinched his 37th victory of the year in two hours and nine minutes on his third match point opportunity.
"Jurgen is a very talented player," said Nadal. "He can play at [a] very high level. If he plays at this level he can beat almost everybody."
Nadal was last ranked World No. 1 on 22 June 2009 and has held the top spot in men's professional tennis for 46 weeks. During this year's European clay-court swing, he has picked up titles at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters (d. Verdasco), the Internazionali BNL d'Italia (d. Ferrer) and the Mutua Madrileña Madrid Open (d. Federer).
The Mallorcan, who owns 28 clay-court titles, is currently fifth on the all-time list for most clay titles in the Open Era. He has compiled a 202-16 record on red dirt over the course of his career.
"I think I played a good match," said Melzer, who will next compete at the Gerry Weber Open in Halle. "It took me a while to get used to the way he played. It was tougher for me to control the ball when it was coming off his racquet.
"For two sets I think he was way better. But then, I kept fighting. I tried whatever I could try just to get him a little worried, and I did.
"It’s tough to talk about the final now after coming off a semi-final [but] I would rank Nadal as favourite."