Paris:Rafael Nadal insisted on Saturday that there has been a dramatic warming in his relationship with French Open final opponent Robin Soderling, once regarded as the snarling, lone wolf of the men's tour.
The world number two takes on the big-swinging Swede in an eagerly-anticipated Roland Garros showdown on Sunday, a year after Soderling sent the Spaniard to a stunning first defeat in Paris.
Nadal is chasing a fifth French Open, just one behind the record of Bjorn Borg, as well as a return to the world number one spot which a victory would guarantee.
Soderling, who reached the final last year only to lose to Roger Federer, is desperate to be Sweden's first champion here since Mats Wilander completed a hat-trick in 1988.
Adding spice to the occasion is Nadal's assertion three years ago that Soderling was one of the most unpopular players on the tour.
It was an accusation fuelled by the Swede's audacious mimicry of Nadal's habit of picking at his shorts amid claims of time-wasting and gamesmanship during a stormy Wimbledon centre court duel in 2007.
But three years on, Nadal says 25-year-old Soderling has grown up.
"I had a little bit more tension than usual at Wimbledon in 2007, but after that I didn't have one problem with him. I think he's doing well, and at the same time he has improved his level of tennis," said Nadal.
"He has improved his personality. He says hello more times to the rest of the players.
"I think he was very shy in the beginning. For sure it is good to have a player like Robin playing at this high level in the tour."
Soderling has always insisted he has preferred to keep himself to himself.
"I'm not going to change the way I am. It's just tennis. Maybe I don't say hello to the players all the time, but I'm always nervous and tense before a match," he said after defeating Nadal here last year.
"I don't like to speak much before a match. It's nothing to do with the other players. I just don't like to lose. All I want to do is win matches."
Soderling has already defeated Federer at this year's Roland Garros, and has no time for those who argue that his stunning victory over Nadal 12 months ago was partly due to the Spaniard's long-running knee injury problems.
"I think he's definitely not the only player who has some problem with his body. I think we all have that from time to time," said the Swede after beating Tomas Berdych on Friday in his semi-final.
"I was very happy with the win and my run here last year. I still am. It doesn't matter who I played or who I beat or if he was injured or not."