The final four boys left at Roland Garros played their matches today and, thankfully, it wasn't a bust the way the ladies went down.
Rafael Nadal will go for his fifth title in Paris after defeating the surprise semifinalist of the group, Jurgen Melzer, 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (8). He played what he described in his presser as his "best match" of the tourney and it showed on the stat sheet: 37 winners/24 errors; 76% on first serve winning 75% of the time; won 69% of the time on second serves; converted 5 of 8 break point chance; and made 13 of 19 net approaches. Yes, the best match by Rafa the entire tourney.
He was asked to describe the difference between last year and now in his post-match presser:
Not a surprise in the least. Rafa was expected to blow through his draw to the final and he's done just that, with out dropping a single set. But that stat could change in the Sunday's men's final when he faces...
Q. Is it possible just to give an impression of your game this year here at Roland Garros as opposed to your game at this time last year?
RAFAEL NADAL: Is impossible to compare, because last year I was in the swimming pool in Mallorca. Sure.
Q. Well, maybe your approach to this championship this year as opposed to your approach last year.
RAFAEL NADAL: Yeah. Well, I think probably I didn't play today I played well, but before today I didn't play my best Roland Garros if we speak in terms of what I feel on court. But I played my best clay court season before Roland Garros. That's for sure, no? Last year my feeling was I won in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, and Rome, but probably is difficult to understand. It was difficult to understand for me too how I won that tournaments because I felt I didn't play well.
So probably was because the dynamic was very positive, very positive since the beginning of the year. I arrived on clay and I won for that reason, but not for tennis, I think. And when I arrived here and I found opponent that push me to the highest level, I wasn't ready to win.
...Robin Soderling in a rematch of their fourth round battle last year which was won by the Swede in a total shockfest and still ranks as Rafa's lone loss on the Parisian clay.
Sod edged out first time Grand Slam semifinalist Tomas Berdych 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 in a battle short on rallies and long on quick points for these two towering ballers. Clearly the fifth seed's experience paid off here in the stretch as did his serving: 63% first serve, 18 aces and a 59% success on second deliveries.
Sod was asked whether his win over Rafa last year gave him an edge and how he would approach this year's final differently than last year's:
Q. (Through French translation) good afternoon, Robin. You defeated Nadal when you played him. He hasn't yet finished. Do you think that you have a psychological edge if you are to play against him in the final?
ROBIN SODERLING: Well, we played many times. He beat me a lot of times, and I beat him a few times. So it was not the last match. You know, we played one or two times after that.
But of course it's always good to have beaten a player before. I know that I can beat him. I showed it. But, again, you know, every match is a new match, and every match is different.
Q. Just going back to last year's experience again, what would you hope to do a little better? Perhaps start better in the final than you did last year? The nerves, you got used to the nerves now, what it's gonna be like now in the locker room beforehand.
ROBIN SODERLING: Yeah, of course, I didn't get off to a great start last year, which was really tough for me. But, you know, it's gonna be a long match. It's best of five sets. You can always work your way into any matches in a Grand Slam. Yeah, it's not gonna be easy whoever I play, but I feel pretty confident. I'm playing really good tennis right now, and I will enjoy it for sure.
Oooh, this final is gonna be good for a few reasons:
1) Rafa's not playing Roger Federer, who he owns espesh on clay, but someone who has, and can, beat him here
2) It's revenge, whether the Majorcan Matador wants to admit it or not. I mean, who wouldn't want to get the baller back who gave you the only loss at your fave major in your career so far?
3) The weather. If it's warm and sunny, then advantage Rafa and his topspin balls. If it's cool and heavy, advantage Sod and his power plays.
Game on. Oh wait - here's the BANANA BONUS:
He may have sick skills on the tennis court but I could show Rafa a thing or three about working a banana. Silly boy.
[Photo(s): Getty Images]