- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 1, 2011

PARIS — At last, Rafael Nadal sounded satisfied.

Then again, what could he possibly have complained about Wednesday? The five-time French Open champion reached the semifinals and improved his career record at Roland Garros to 43-1 with a clean-as-can-be 6-4, 6-1, 7-6 (7-3) victory over the only man he’s ever lost to there, two-time runner-up Robin Soderling.

“Today, I played better. Much better, in my opinion,” Nadal said. “It was nothing secret, nothing magic. … I found a lot of solutions.”

After Nadal’s previous match, he chided himself for not hitting the ball with conviction and fretted that his level of tennis wasn’t good enough.

Against Soderling, Nadal was at his “King of Clay” best.

He scrambled along the baseline to dig out and get back shots that would be winners against most anyone else. He went from defense to offense in a blink, winning 14 of the first 19 points that lasted at least 10 strokes, according to the AP’s tally. He made a hard-to-believe 13 unforced errors total; Soderling made 41. Nadal broke in each of the first two games the 6-foot-4 Soderling served, six times in all.

On Friday, the top-seeded Nadal will take on No. 4 Andy Murray, who became only the third British man in the past 70 years to reach the French Open semifinals by beating unseeded Juan Ignacio Chela 7-6 (7-2), 7-5, 6-2.

The other men’s semifinal is No. 2 Novak Djokovic, who is 41-0 in 2011 and has won 43 consecutive matches overall, against No. 3 Roger Federer, owner of a record 16 Grand Slam titles.

It’s the 12th time in the history of the Open era, which began in 1968, that the top four seeded men reached the semifinals at a Grand Slam tournament — and first since the 2006 French Open.

In contrast, none of the top four seeded players will participate in the women’s semifinals Thursday, when No. 5 Francesca Schiavone, the defending champion, faces No. 11 Marion Bartoli and No. 6 Li Na meets No. 7 Maria Sharapova.

For Sharapova, who had right shoulder surgery in October 2008, it’s her first major semifinal in more than three years, and she is bidding to complete a career Grand Slam. She won Wimbledon in 2004, the U.S. Open in 2006, and the Australian Open in 2008, but never has been to a final in Paris.

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