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Soderling Battles Past Berdych For Second Shot At Title

Paris, France

Robin Soderling© AFP/Getty ImagesRobin Soderling could reach a career-high World No. 4 if he wins the Roland Garros title.

Fifth seed Robin Soderling will attempt to become the first Swedish titlist at Roland Garros since Mats Wilander in 1988 after he fought past No. 15 seed Tomas Berdych 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 on Friday for a place in his second Grand Slam championship final.

Soderling, who captured his only clay-court title at the SkiStar Swedish Open at Bastad in July 2009, ended Berdych’s eight-match winning streak with victory in three hours and 27 minutes. By reaching the Roland Garros final for the second straight year, he is guaranteed to rise to a career-high No. 6 in the South African Airways ATP 2010 Rankings on Monday.

The Tibro native hit 18 aces (75 aces overall for the tournament) and 62 winners, converting six of 13 break point opportunities. Berdych, whose previous best Grand Slam performance was a quarter-final run at 2007 Wimbledon, committed 41 unforced errors and dropped to 1-13 lifetime against Top 10 opponents at major championships.

"Of course I could have lost that match," admitted Soderling, who will next meet four-time former champion and No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal of Spain. "It was very close.  [It] was really tough to play my own game, because he didn't give me any time at all. He was hitting the ball really hard and really flat."

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Berdych appeared the stronger player on return of serve in the opening exchanges, but a poor service game at 2-3 – that saw Soderling break on the back of a double fault – handed last year's finalist the initiative. Soderling confirmed a 5-2 lead with a service hold to 15, when he showcased just how much he has worked on his volleying technique since a six-month injury lay-off in 2007. Soderling backed up his potent serve with aggressive groundstrokes to keep Berdych behind the baseline in the 33-minute first set.

In the second set, Berdych had a change in fortunes. He was gifted a 3-1 lead courtesy of a backhand error and a double fault and could have taken a 5-2 lead, but Soderling saved two break points with pinpoint accurate serving. In 28° Celsius heat, Berdych clinched the second set in 39 minutes with an ace on his second set point opportunity. 

The atmosphere began to build on Philippe Chatrier Court in the third set, when Soderling dropped to 0/40 in the third game. Flirting with disaster, Soderling got back to deuce through three unforced errors from Berdych. He saved a fourth break point with a forehand winner, but on Berdych’s fifth opportunity he hit a double fault.

But Soderling, the only Swede in the Top 300 of the South African Airways 2010 ATP Rankings, turned the match around by playing conservatively and cutting down on errors. He was able to win three straight games for a 4-3 lead, after erratic serving from Berdych in the fourth and sixth games.

Berdych looked in big trouble at 15/40 in the eighth game, but won four straight points through solid serving and deft touch. The match turned on its head again at 5-5, when Soderling saved two break points but over-hit a forehand to gift Berdych a service break. 

Just as it looked like Berdych might become the first Czech Roland Garros finalist since Petr Korda in 1992, Soderling raised his game. Breaking serve in the sixth game of the fourth set, he went on to take the pair's ninth meeting to a deciding set with an outstanding inside-out forehand winner in a tense service hold.

While the pair exchanged service breaks at the start of the fifth set, it was Soderling who proved ultimately mentally tougher than Berdych. Gaining a crucial break in the seventh game, Soderling won four straight points from 0-30 to take a 5-3 lead. Minutes later, Berdych hit a backhand wide at 30/40 to give Soderling another shot at the title. Last year, he fell to World No. 1 Roger Federer in the final.

"I think I can do well on any surface," said Soderling, who improved to a 27-9 match record on the season. He will be attempting to capture his sixth tour-level title in Sunday's final. "There's no surface I don't like to play on, which is a good feeling."

Berdych, who was the first Czech to reach a Grand Slam championship semi-final since Jiri Novak at the 2002 Australian Open, dropped to a 30-11 mark this year.

"It was a great two weeks for me," said Berdych. "Every round I [have] won here was a great moment."

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