PARIS - All that stands between Rafael Nadal and a fifth French Open title is the only player ever to beat him at Roland Garros.
Nadal and Robin Soderling won semifinals yesterday to set up a tantalizing rematch. Soderling pulled off a stunner when they met in the fourth round last year, and the upset remains Nadal's lone loss in 38 French Open matches.
Soderling, runner-up to Roger Federer in 2009, returned to the final by sweeping the last four games to overtake No. 15-seeded Tomas Berdych, 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3. Nadal then beat No. 22 Jurgen Melzer, 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (6).
Soderling has a knack for upsets in Paris - he beat Federer in the quarterfinals this week - and will be an underdog again tomorrow.
The No. 2-seeded Nadal has won all 18 sets in this year's tournament, and he's 21-0 on clay in 2010. He seeks to become the second man to win at least five French Open titles. Bjorn Borg won six.
Nadal is bidding for his seventh Grand Slam title. If he wins, he'll reclaim the No. 1 ranking from Federer next week.
But Soderling's big serve and forehand make him dangerous, as he showed against Berdych. Temperatures in the low 80s made for fast court conditions, and the match quickly developed into a slugfest between two of the hardest hitters in tennis.
Most points were short, and rallies were usually restricted to big swings from the backcourt, with few slices, drop shots, lobs or volleys.
The No. 5-seeded Soderling hit 18 aces, 62 winners and 63 unforced errors. Berdych hit 21 aces, 42 winners and 41 unforced errors.
"It was really tough to play my game," Soderling said, "because he was hitting so hard."
Like Berdych, Melzer was a first-time Grand Slam semifinalist, and the Austrian was overmatched from the baseline. His double-fault gave Nadal the first service break at love in the sixth game, and the Spaniard seized control of the match.
Venus and Serena Williams won their fourth consecutive Grand Slam doubles title and 12th overall by beating Katarina Srebotnik and Kveta Peschke, 6-2, 6-3.