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Nadal Fights Doubts to Meet Soderling in French Open Rematch

Nadal Fights Doubts to Meet Soderling in French Open Rematch
Spain's Rafael Nadal hits a return to Croatia's Ivan Ljubicic during their Men's fourth round match in the French Open tennis championship at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris. Photographer: Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images

Rafael Nadal must overcome two hurdles today to reach the French Open semifinals -- the only player to beat him on the red clay of Paris, and his own doubts about winning a record-tying sixth championship.

Nadal, the top seed and defending champion from Spain, meets Robin Soderling, the fifth seed from Sweden who beat him in the fourth round at Roland Garros two years ago.

A straight-set victory against Ivan Ljubicic two days ago left Nadal’s French Open career record at 42-1. Yet the 24-year-old left-hander has said repeatedly that he’s no longer the best player, overtaken by second-seeded Novak Djokovic and his 41-match winning streak this year.

“I won four times already here, five times already here,” Nadal said at a news conference after beating Ljubicic. “I don’t have an obligation to win six. But I am going to try for sure.”

Just like after his opening-round match against John Isner of the U.S., when he was taken to a fifth set for the first time at the French Open, Nadal said he was “too anxious” and “nervous” in his latest victory, and that his play wasn’t good enough to win the title. He needs one more championship to tie the modern French Open men’s record of six, set by Bjorn Borg.

Li Faces Azarenka

Li Na plays Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, at No. 4 the highest seed left in the women’s draw, for a spot in the semifinals. Na is the first Chinese player to make it to the last eight at Roland Garros.

Former Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova faces No. 15 seed Andrea Petkovic of Germany in the other women’s quarterfinal, the Russian’s first appearance in the last eight of a major in two years.

No. 4 men’s seed Andy Murray of Britain plays Juan Ignacio Chela of Argentina for a semifinal spot against the Nadal-Soderling winner.

Murray came back from a two-set deficit yesterday to defeat No. 15 Viktor Troicki of Serbia, who was two points from victory in the final set. Third-seeded Roger Federer of Switzerland defeated France’s Gael Monfils, the ninth seed, in straight sets to reach a semifinal against Djokovic.

Women’s defending champion Francesca Schiavone of Italy and No. 11 Marion Bartoli of France won yesterday to set up a semifinal match.

Nadal has a lot to be nervous about in Paris. Djokovic is on a 43-0 winning streak since the Davis Cup final in December, and will take Nadal’s No. 1 world ranking if he can defeat Federer in their semifinal.

Nadal’s 2010 Season

Nadal won the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year, and started this season with a shot at becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time. Instead, he left the Australian Open in tears after a ruptured thigh muscle hampered his movement in a quarterfinal loss to Spain’s David Ferrer.

“Nobody can always keep the same level forever,” Nadal said in Paris.

Djokovic won his second major title in Melbourne and has since defeated Nadal in four finals. Nadal’s loss to Djokovic in the clay-court Madrid title match last month was the Spaniard’s first on the slow surface since Soderling beat him two years ago.

Even full of self-doubt, Nadal will be difficult to beat on his favorite surface, Soderling said.

“I have to be mentally ready for a really tough match,” he said. “He’s not going to give you anything. You have to fight. Against Rafa you have to fight for every point.”

Nadal beat Soderling in last year’s final and called the Swede “an incredible, all-around player.” The Spaniard said he’s hoping to lift his game.

“I think that I’ll have to be more demanding,” Nadal said. “I will have to live up to my own expectations.”

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