Nadal to face Murray in semis
Champion Rafa Nadal cut loose after a shaky French Open start to batter Robin Soderling 6-4, 6-1, 7-6 and Andy Murray again tried to tie himself in knots before easily sealing his semi-final spot on Wednesday.
The first and fourth seeds will meet in a stellar last four in which rampant second seed Novak Djokovic and 16-times Grand Slam champion Roger Federer will also lock horns on Friday.
In contrast, all four top seeds in the women's game are out after Victoria Azarenka joined the list of flops by losing 7-5, 6-2 to Li Na and Russian Maria Sharapova beat Andrea Petkovic 6-0, 6-3 in their quarter-final.
Sharapova and Li will meet in a semi-final clash of styles on Thursday after Russian elegance and Chinese determination powered them though. Champion Francesca Schiavone and France's Marion Bartoli clash in the other semis.
Image: Rafa Nadal celebrates after winning his match against Robin Sodeling in Paris
'I played better than I have on other days'
Five-times winner Nadal, whose only French men's singles loss was to Soderling in 2009, endured his first-five set match on the Paris clay in the first round and had only gradually improved since but he was back to best against the Swede.
"I am very happy, to play against Robin is always difficult," he said courtside.
"I played better than I have on other days. I played a very good level today and Robin maybe made more mistakes than usual."
Hitting winners from the baseline for fun, Nadal was right back at home on the Philippe Chatrier court he has made his own with Spanish flags and fans holding up banners asking for a kiss adding to the party mood.
The crowd were so boisterous that the umpire had to repeatedly calm down their Mexican waves and chants while Soderling just tried to focus on getting a ball in.
The fifth seed's troubles were summed up in the first set where he was broken straight away and although they then exchanged breaks, Soderling made a rare foray to the net only to leave a shot from the Spaniard wrongly hoping it was out.
The rest including the tiebreak was a procession for Nadal, targeting Bjorn Borg's record of six titles at Roland Garros.
Image: Rafa Nadal returns during his quarter-final match against Robin Soderling in Paris
Andy Murray played with fire before overcoming Argentine Juan Ignacio Chela 7-6, 7-5, 6-2 to reach the French Open semi-finals for the first time.
The fourth-seeded Briton, who had twisted his ankle in his fourth-round match, recovered from two breaks down in the opener to win the tiebreak 7-2 and blew a 5-2 lead in the second before getting his act together.
The Scot, who has never won a Grand Slam title, was more consistent in the third set and sealed the win with a delicate drop shot.
Image: Andy Murray celebrates after winning his quarter-final match Juan Ignacio Chela
'I'm very excited to be in the semi-finals'
Whether it was Sharapova's yellow dress or the bright Roland Garros sun, German 15th seed Petkovic was left dazed and dazzled while Li had more of a tussle with Belarus fourth seed Azarenka.
"I don't remember the last time we played but I'm very excited to be in the semi-finals," Sharapova said when asked about her 2009 last-16 win over Li here.
Racing through the first set without any need for extravagance, Sharapova looked almost as shocked as her opponent but the second was more of a duel with the Russian's grunting constrasting markedly with her poise around court.
The former world number one sealed her progression when Petkovic netted a routine forehand on her own serve.
Sharapova, the most experienced woman left in the draw with a title at each of the other three Grand Slams, last won a major in 2008 and has been hampered by injuries and illness since.
A slow start to the second Grand Slam of the season became a shrewd bid at peaking at the right time for the seventh seed once the top three seeds crashed out early.
Now the Russian, who has wowed the galleries with the same shade of fashionable dress each match and even came on court with a trendy handbag, is taking the tournament even more seriously with her first French Open title in sight.
Image: Maria Sharapova reacts after winning her match against Andrea Petkovic in Paris
'This is a huge surprise for me'
The first Chinese to make it this far at Roland Garros, Li never gives up on any point and the Australian Open runner-up also has the backing of millions of fans back home.
The sixth seed charged back from going a break down at 2-1 by hitting every shot with all her might so Azarenka, a hot tip after her good form in the buildup, just could not dictate.
Li repeated the same trick in the second set before victory.
"This is a huge surprise for me," Li said.
Image: Li Na in action during her match against Victoria Azarenka