To those in search of a good storyline, the line-up for today's men's final at the French Open in Paris could have been bettered only if Roger Federer, rather than Robin Soderling, was facing Rafael Nadal.
Twelve months on from the most shocking result of Nadal's career, when he lost to Soderling in the fourth round here to end his unbeaten run of 31 matches at Roland Garros, the Spaniard has the chance this afternoon not only to avenge that defeat but to reclaim – from Federer – both the French Open title and the world No 1 ranking.
Nadal, however, is not thinking like a headline writer. "I never believe in revenge," the four-times champion said in the wake of Soderling's semi-final victory here over Tomas Berdych. "Seriously, I would prefer to play Tomas in the final, because I've won my last six matches against him. That's the truth. When I play against Robin it will be a difficult match."
If logic suggests a victory for Nadal, who has not dropped a set over the past fortnight and has won all 21 of his matches on clay this year, the Spaniard himself will be taking nothing for granted. Soderling has won their previous two matches – he followed up the win here with a straight-sets victory in the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London in November – and has enjoyed a year of solid progress.
Even Federer was unable to cope with the Swede's booming serves and groundstrokes in the quarter-finals, particularly in damp and heavy conditions. The forecast for today is better than it was in the middle of last week, but there could still be rain in the air.
The other doubt that may be at the back of Nadal's mind is the fact that he has lost 12 of his previous 15 matches against opponents from the world's top 10. During his remarkable run this year on his favourite surface – Nadal arrived at Roland Garros as the only player ever to have won all three Masters Series titles in the same season – he has met only one top-10 player, having beaten Federer in the final in Madrid.
Nadal described Soderling, the world No 7, as "a very dangerous player, one of the best in the world". He added: "He has a very complete game. His serve is very powerful, both on the first and the second ball. He's very aggressive from the baseline. Sometimes he will play long, flat shots, so it's very difficult to make him run and move.
"Wherever he is, he strikes with a very powerful shot. He beat me easily last year, although obviously I was not at my top level."
After playing his best tennis here this year to beat Jürgen Melzer in the semi-finals, Nadal said he did not expect to be nervous. "I'm happier now because I'm there, at the last match," he said. "That's where I've dreamed of being for a long time. If Robin plays better than me and wins, I will still have had a very good clay-court season."
Soderling, meanwhile, thinks he will benefit from the experience of having played in his first Grand Slam final here last year, when he was beaten in straight sets by Federer. "Hopefully I can handle it a bit better than I did last year, because everything was a bit new for me then," he said.Reuse content