Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray to meet
PARIS -- Playing like he's still upset about his only loss at Roland Garros, Rafael Nadal defeated Robin Soderling 6-4, 6-1, 7-6 (3) on Wednesday to reach the French Open semifinals for the sixth time.
The five-time champion, who lost to Soderling in the fourth round in 2009 but beat him in last year's final, is 43-1 at the clay-court Grand Slam and two wins away from equaling Bjorn Borg's record of six French Open titles.
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"I am through. I'm in the semifinals, so that's the thing," Nadal said. "I have to be playing better and better every day if I want to have chances to win the final and that's what I'm going to try."
Nadal will face fourth-seeded Andy Murray, who reached the French Open semifinals for the first time in his career. The Australian Open runner-up, who injured his right ankle in the third round, defeated Juan Ignacio Chela 7-6 (2), 7-5, 6-2.
"In my opinion, that's not going to affect him and his confidence to be in the semifinal," Nadal said of Murray's injury. "He's playing well. He's (a) big player."
Murray's win ensured that the top four seeded players made the semifinals at a Grand Slam tournament for only the 12th time in the Open era.
Nadal was back on Court Philippe Chatrier to face the man who was responsible for his only blemish at Roland Garros. But with the wind gusting -- at one point blowing specks of red clay into Nadal's face -- the fifth-seeded Swede struggled with his first serve, landing only 57 percent during the match.
"It's always difficult to play when it's windy, but it's the same for both players," Soderling said. "In the beginning it was tough to serve really well. I think first two sets was pretty windy, and then it got a little bit easier, a little bit calmer in the third set."
However, Nadal didn't appear to be bothered by the conditions, although he was broken twice. The top-ranked Spaniard made only 13 unforced errors, while Soderling had 41.
"Probably Robin today had a few more mistakes than usual. That maybe helped me a little bit," Nadal said.
Emotionless for nearly the entire match, Nadal was able to handle Soderling's hard forehand and keep his opponent on the move by spraying shots to the corners of the court.
And when he smacked a forehand winner to hold serve to 6-5 in the third set, the crowd roared.
After five titles in Paris, Nadal had plenty of fans in the stands -- and even some admirers. Besides the Spanish flags throughout the stadium, one woman held up a sign reading, "Rafa ganador, kiss me por favor" ("Rafa you winner, kiss me please").
Nadal's semifinal opponent also had an easy time Wednesday.
Murray, who tore a tendon in his right ankle last week but still managed to win a five-setter in the fourth round, trailed Chela 4-1 in the first set. He then won five of six games to force the tiebreak and broke early in both of the next two sets.
"I'm surprised I'm here, to be honest, because I haven't actually played that well," said Murray. "That's a very good sign for me, because a few months ago I was not playing well and losing badly. I haven't been playing that well. I'm in the semis of a Slam. That's a good sign."
After reaching the Australian Open final in January, Murray went through a four-match losing streak. But he is now enjoying his best clay-court season, having already reached the semifinals in Monte Carlo and Rome.
Rafael Nadal has a career record of 10-4 against his French Open semifinal opponent, Andy Murray.
|'11 Monte Carlo Masters SF||Clay, outdoor||Nadal 6-4, 2-6, 6-1|
|'10 ATP Finals-London SF||Hard, indoor||Nadal 7-6 (5), 3-6, 7-6 (6)|
|'10 Toronto Masters SF||Hard, outdoor||Murray 6-3, 6-4|
|'10 Wimbledon SF||Grass, outdoor||Nadal 6-4, 7-6 (6), 6-4|
|'10 Aussie Open QF||Hard, outdoor||Murray 6-3, 7-6 (2), 3-0 (ret.)|
|'09 Monte Carlo Masters SF||Clay, outdoor||Nadal 6-2, 7-6 (4)|
|'09 Indian Wells F||Hard, outdoor||Nadal 6-1, 6-2|
|'09 Rotterdam F||Hard, indoor||Murray 6-3, 4-6, 6-0|
|'08 U.S. Open SF||Hard, outdoor||Murray 6-2, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4|
|'08 Toronto Masters SF||Hard, outdoor||Nadal 7-6 (2), 6-3|
|'08 Wimbledon QF||Grass, outdoor||Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 6-4|
|'08 Hamburg Masters R16||Clay, outdoor||Nadal 6-3, 6-2|
|'07 Madrid Masters R16||Hard, indoor||Nadal 7-6 (5), 6-4|
|'07 Aussie Open R16||Hard, outdoor||Nadal 6-7 (3), 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1|
He lost to Nadal in Monte Carlo but pushed the top-ranked Spaniard to three sets.
"I think in the buildup to the French I was playing very well, and now I'm going to have to get that level out on Friday and sustain it for a long period to beat Rafa," Murray said. "But I feel I can do it. It's just making sure that on Friday I will play my best tennis.
"I have to play a very consistent match, and I have to be mentally strong," he said.
Murray already showed his mental resources this week when he came back from two sets and a break down to defeat Viktor Troicki in a fourth-round match that took two days to complete.
Against Chela, Murray said his ankle didn't bother him too much, giving him some confidence before Friday's match against Nadal.
"I've got two days to rest up, recover and get ready for Rafa, which is always one of the most exciting matches for me on the tour," Murray said. "I'm glad I've got tomorrow off where I can rest and recover. It does make a big difference. Forty-eight hours are enough to recover and calm myself down and take everything in and go from there."
On a windy Court Suzanne Lenglen, Chela broke twice to open a 4-1 lead with a forehand passing shot straight at Murray, who struggled physically and even looked out of breath after long rallies.
But Murray saved two set points at 5-3, the second with a backhand drop shot. He then broke to level the score at 5-5 with a forehand winner and won five points in a row in the tiebreak.
"Then I got up in the second (set), sort of maybe lost concentration a little bit, which you can't afford to do against someone like Juan, who has a lot of experience on this surface," Murray said. "Something I definitely won't get away with against Rafa."
Chela said Murray didn't seem diminished at all by his ankle injury.
"If he was really injured, I don't believe he would have been able to run that much," the Argentine said. "We played three hours, and I didn't notice he had any difficulty in running."
Murray is only the second British man in the Open era to reach the French Open semifinals after Tim Henman seven years ago. If he reaches the final, he would be the first Brit in the championship match at Roland Garros since Bunny Austin in 1937.
"Tactically I'm going to have to be very good," Murray said. "So I can definitely win. I just need to play my best."
The other semifinal Friday will be between Roger Federer and the seemingly unstoppable Novak Djokovic. The second-seeded Djokovic is 41-0 in 2011 and has won 43 straight matches dating to last year's Davis Cup final triumph for Serbia.
"The best player of the world today against the best player (in) history," Nadal said. "Going to be, in my opinion, fantastic match."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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