Rafael Nadal moved within two wins of his record-tying sixth French Open championship with a straight-set quarterfinal victory over Robin Soderling, the only player to beat him in Paris.
Nadal of Spain beat Soderling, the fifth seed from Sweden, 6-4, 6-1, 7-6 (7-3) in a rematch of last year’s final. The win means Nadal has a chance to retain the No. 1 spot in the ATP World Tour rankings.
“I am very happy to make the semifinals once again,” Nadal said in a courtside interview. “Today was a very important victory for me. I had a very good level, and Robin had a few more mistakes than usual.”
Nadal is now 43-1 at the French Open, his lone loss coming against Soderling in the fourth round two years ago. He next plays No. 4 Andy Murray of Britain, who beat Argentina’s Juan Ignacio Chela 7-6 (7-2), 7-5, 6-2, in the semifinals in two days.
Li Na and Maria Sharapova also won in straight sets to set up a women’s semifinal meeting.
The sixth-seeded Li defeated fourth-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 7-5, 6-2 to become the first Chinese player in the semifinals at Roland Garros. Sharapova, the seventh seed from Russia, beat No. 15 Andrea Petkovic of Germany 6-0, 6-3.
“I never think I could play semis in Roland Garros,” Li, whose previous best finish in Paris was the fourth round two years ago, said in a news conference. “I think I can play in the other three, but never think about Roland Garros.”
Nadal made just 13 unforced errors today, 28 fewer than Soderling. He took the first set when the Swede dumped a backhand into the net, then made just two errors in winning the second.
Nadal took a 2-1 lead in the third-set tiebreaker, wining both points off Soderling’s serve. The tiebreak then stayed on serve until Soderling put a forehand into the net to give Nadal the victory.
Murray advanced to his first French Open semifinal after making 44 unforced errors to Chela’s 35. Murray had 59 winners and broke Chela’s serve eight times, including the first and final games of the last set.
Nadal has won 10 of 14 matches against Murray, including all three on clay. The Spaniard has won three of their five meetings at Grand Slams, most recently in last year’s Wimbledon semifinals.
“Playing against Andy is always a big challenge,” Nadal told reporters. “He has all the shots. He can defend very well, he can attack very well, he runs fantastic. The only thing that you can beat him is playing at a very, very high level.”
No. 2 Novak Djokovic of Serbia meets Roger Federer, the 16-time Grand Slam champion and No. 3 seed, in the other semifinal. It’s the first time the four top seeds have reached a Grand Slam semifinal since Roland Garros in 2006.
Li had 21 winners and five service breaks in beating Azarenka, the highest-seeded woman left in the field. It’s her second consecutive Grand Slam semifinal after losing to Kim Clijsters in the Australian Open final in January
Sharapova needed just 32 minutes to win the first set at love. After five service breaks gave Sharapova a 4-3 lead in the second, she held and then wrapped up the victory with a break as Petkovic put a forehand into the net.
“I’m in the semifinal stage of this tournament and my goal is just to take it a step further right now,” Sharapova, who would complete the career Grand slam with a title in Paris, said in a news conference.
Defending champion Francesca Schiavone of Italy, the No. 5 seed, meets No. 11 Marion Bartoli of France in tomorrow’s other women’s semifinal.