Swiss tennis star Roger Federer has beaten Serbian player of the moment Novak Djokovic 7-6, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 in the semifinals of the French Open.
The third-seeded Swiss played vintage tennis against a player who was unbeaten this year to set up a much anticipated match against Spanish nemesis Rafael Nadal on Sunday.
The world number one had earlier beaten Britain’s Andy Murray 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 to reach his sixth final in seven years at Roland Garros.
Federer, a 16-time grand slam champion, kept his nerve to win two tie-breaks against bookmakers’ favourite Djokovic, who until Friday had won 41 matches this year and lost none and was unbeaten in his previous 43 matches.
"I've trained a lot during my whole life for these kinds of matches," 29-year-old Federer said. "There was an enormous amount of pressure on Novak and he really played well."
On Sunday, Nadal will try to beat Federer for the sixth time in eight grand slam finals – and if he does so, he will prevent Djokovic from taking his number ranking.
"Beating Novak today was maybe a good birthday gift for him because he lost his four previous matches against Novak," Federer said of Nadal, who turned 25 on Friday.
"I'm going to play against Nadal, my main rival, in another grand slam final. We live for these moments."
Federer won the 2009 title at Roland Garros to complete a career Grand Slam but lost in the quarterfinals a year ago.
Federer of old
Djokovic entered the French Open as the hottest man on tour. He had won every tournament he had entered in 2011, including earning his second grand slam title at the Australian Open after beating Federer in their second straight major semifinal.
But for Federer, three times in a row was too many. On Friday the Swiss had an answer to just about everything Djokovic could muster, sending back shot after shot and waiting for his opponent to make the mistakes – even though Federer finished with 46 unforced errors, five more than Djokovic.
The two traded a pair of breaks in the first set, and Djokovic then led 5-4 in the tie-break when three unforced errors – a backhand and two forehands – gave Federer the set.
In the second, Federer took Djokovic's serve to jump ahead 4-1 and held on to win it despite wasting nine more break chances.
Djokovic got the early break in the third and ran out to a 3-0 lead, eventually taking the first set off Federer at this year's tournament. He also led in the fourth and served for the set at 5-4, but Federer got his fourth break to soon send it back to a tie-break.
Once there, Federer was the Federer of old again. He took a 6-3 lead by winning three straight points, the final two with an ace and service winner. He then won the match with his 18th ace of the match.
For Djokovic, who didn't need to exert himself on Tuesday because his quarterfinal opponent, Fabio Fognini, withdrew with an injured left leg, a victory over Federer would have guaranteed a rise to number one in the rankings for the first time.
It also would have made the second-seeded Serb 42-0 in 2011, tying John McEnroe in 1984 for the best start to a season in the Open era, which began in 1968.
Federer’s victory put him into his first grand slam final in more than 16 months, his longest drought since he won his first major title at Wimbledon in 2003.
It also allowed Federer to make clear to everyone that he's still at the top of the game as his 30th birthday approaches in August. Plus, it served as something of a rebuke to Djokovic, who beat Federer in the semifinals at the US Open in September and Australian Open in January.
Despite ending Djokovic's run, things won't get any easier against Nadal.
The two have met 24 times, with Nadal leading 16-8. They have met three times in the final of the French Open – in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Nadal, who has lifted the Coupe des Mousquetaires five times, won every encounter.
The French Open is the second grand slam event of the year and is held at the Stade Roland Garros in Paris.
It is taking place this year from May 17-June 5.
The 2011 French Open offered prize money of €17,520,000 (SFr21,900,000) up from €16,807,400 in 2010.
As in 2010 the event awarded equal prize money to men and women in all events. The male and female singles champions each receive €1,200,000, up from €1,120,000 last year.
The event began as a national tournament in 1891 as the Championnat de France International de Tennis.
swissinfo.ch and agencies