PARIS: Spanish second seed Nadal, who turned 24 on Thursday, outclassed battling Austrian journeyman Jurgen Melzer 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (8/6) to maintain his record of not having dropped a set in this tournament. Melzer, contesting his first grand slam semi-final, played brave attacking tennis and briefly rocked Nadal with an impressive late fightback.
Nadal cruised through the first set in just 29 minutes with breaks in the sixth game, courtesy of a Melzer double fault, and the eighth when the Spaniard unleashed a rapier, cross-court backhand.
The 29-year-old Austrian, playing in his 29th Grand Slam, continued to struggle against the classy Nadal who quickly broke in the fourth game of the second set to lead 3-1. Melzer managed to regain the break, but it was a brief respite as Nadal typically charged back for a 5-2 lead.
There was no halting the Nadal assault as the former champion went on to take the second set 6-3. Nadal broke to love in the first game of the third set with a succession of deep, razor-sharp groundstrokes which left Melzer breathless from the chase. Melzer gallantly clung on and retrieved the break in the 10th game as Nadal served for the match.
The Austrian saved two match points in the tiebreak, the second with a nerveless drop shot, but dumped a forehand into the net on the third.
Soderling to face Nadal
Towering Swedish player Robin Soderling won a bruising encounter 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 over Tomas Berdych to reach the French Open final. The match went the full distance with Soderling grabbing the vital break of serve he needed in the seventh game of the deciding set before winning the last two games to make sure. As expected, the final four showdown quickly developed into a deadly exchange of big serves and rasping ground-strokes down both flanks.
Berdych was the first to flinch in the sixth game when he double-faulted on break point allowing Soderling to take a 4-2 lead. The Swede comfortably served out to take the set, the first Berdych had lost in the tournament.
The Swede struggled to hold his serve at the start of the fourth set while Berdych was holding with ease, but it was the Czech who wilted first dropping his serve in the sixth game to leave Soderling 4-2 up. That pumped up last year’s losing finalist and he comfortably served out twice to force a deciding set.
Hopes resting on Stosur
Samantha Stosur believes playing a first Grand Slam final outside her Australian hot house of expectations could work in her favour when in today’s final. She is looking to become the first Australian woman to win a Grand Slam title since Evonne Goolagong clinched the 1980 Wimbledon crown.
Schiavone is the first Italian woman to reach a Grand Slam final and if she wins today, she would be the first player outside the top 10 to do so since Margaret Scriven in 1933. Asked why Grand Slam success had come to her so late in her career, she said, “Everybody’s different. I think it’s my time now.”
Published in the Express Tribune, June 5th, 2010.