PARIS - At last, Rafael Nadal sounded satisfied.
Then again, what could he possibly have complained about yesterday? The five-time French Open champion reached the semifinals and improved his career record at Roland Garros to 43-1 with a clean-as-can-be 6-4, 6-1, 7-6 (3) victory over the only man he's ever lost to there, two-time runner-up Robin Soderling.
"Today, I played better. Much better, in my opinion," Nadal said. "It was nothing secret, nothing magic . . . I found a lot of solutions."
After Nadal's previous match, he chided himself for not hitting the ball with conviction and fretted that his level of tennis wasn't good enough to win the tournament a sixth time, which would tie Bjorn Borg's record for the most by a man in history.
Against Soderling, Nadal was at his "King of Clay" best.
He scrambled along the baseline to dig out and get back shots that would be winners against most anyone else. He went from defense to offense in a blink, winning 14 of the first 19 points that lasted at least 10 strokes, according to the AP's tally. He made a hard-to-believe 13 unforced errors total; Soderling made 41. Nadal broke in each of the first two games the 6-4 Soderling served, six times in all.
Tomorrow, the top-seeded Nadal will take on No. 4 Andy Murray, who became only the third British man in the last 70 years to reach the French Open semifinals by beating unseeded Juan Ignacio Chela of Argentina, 7-6 (2), 7-5, 6-2. Murray has been playing with a torn tendon in his right ankle since twisting it in the third round, and he trailed Chela 4-1, then 5-3, before saving two set points.
"Just a really scrappy match," said Murray, who is 0-3 in Grand Slam finals. "I didn't start particularly well and then got a little bit better, started moving a bit better, towards the end of the first set."
The other men's semifinal is No. 2 Novak Djokovic, who is 41-0 in 2011 and has won 43 consecutive matches overall, against No. 3 Roger Federer, owner of a record 16 Grand Slam titles.
It's the 12th time in the history of the Open era, which began in 1968, that the top four seeded men reached the semifinals at a Grand Slam tournament - and first since the 2006 French Open.
In contrast, none of the top four seeded players will play in the women's semifinals today, when No. 5 Francesca Schiavone of Italy, the defending champion, faces No. 11 Marion Bartoli of France, and No. 6 Li Na of China meets No. 7 Maria Sharapova of Russia.
For Sharapova, who had right shoulder surgery in October 2008, it's her first major semifinal in more than 3 years, and she is bidding to complete a career Grand Slam. She won Wimbledon in 2004, the U.S. Open in 2006, and the Australian Open in 2008, but never has been to a final in Paris.
"I put a lot of work in to be in this stage of the Grand Slams," Sharapova said after beating No. 15 Andrea Petkovic of Germany, 6-0, 6-3, yesterday with her fiance, New Jersey Nets guard Sasha Vujacic, in the stands. "I'm really happy that it's here."
Li was a 7-5, 6-2 winner over No. 4 Victoria Azarenka.
"So many people think I'm not so good [on a] clay court," Li said, "but I think now they should change a little bit."