Four-time champion Rafael Nadal stormed into his fifth French Open final on Friday to set up a mouth-watering revenge showdown with Robin Soderling, who sent him crashing to a first Paris defeat last year.
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.
Soderling, the Swedish fifth seed who was defeated by Roger Federer in the 2009 final, blasted past Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 in his semi-final.
Now the Swede, who put Federer out in the quarter-final here on Wednesday, stands in the way of Nadal capturing a fifth French Open, a feat which would place the Spaniard just one behind Bjorn Borg on the all-time list.
"It was very hot today, but the ball bounces higher and there's more top spin which is good for my game," said Nadal.
"Soderling is playing really well. I will go on court and do my best and if he beats me I will congratulate him. For sure, it will be a difficult match."
Nadal said he was in the best shape ahead of the final, unlike last year when his season unravelled as his suspect knees buckled under the strain.
"I was really nervous before the tournament, but today I am more relaxed and happy because I am in the final where I dreamed of being. Physically and mentally I am in the best condition," said Nadal.
"Last year the toughest thing was coming here in the worst possible condition."
Melzer, the first Austrian since Thomas Muster in 1995 to reach this stage, came back from losing the first two sets to defeat world number three Novak Djokovic in his quarter-final to reach a first Grand Slam semi-final.
But there was to be no repeat of that miracle victory against fellow left-hander Nadal, who has the added incentive of reclaiming the world nunber one spot from Federer if he wins the title.
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.
Play was briefly interrupted when a spectator fainted in the 28-degree heat.
But 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. AFP