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Roger Sets Up Rafa Final for Third Successive Year

Paris, France

Roger Federer is the 10th man to reach 15 Grand Slam finals.© Getty ImagesRoger Federer is the 10th man to reach 15 Grand Slam finals.

World No. 1 Roger Federer came through a thrilling and fast paced semifinal encounter with Frenchman Gael Monfils 6-2, 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 on Friday to set up a third successive Roland Garros final against Rafael Nadal.

The 26-year-old Federer now becomes the 10th man to reach 15 Grand Slam finals, joining Ivan Lendl (19), Pete Sampras (18), Rod Laver (17), Bjorn Borg (16) and Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, Roy Emerson, Ken Rosewall and Bill Tilden, who all reached 15.

Having won five Wimbledon titles, four US Opens and three Australian Opens, the Swiss is bidding to become just the sixth man in history to complete a career Grand Slam as he looks to win his first Roland Garros title. The past two years he has reached the final, but fallen short to Nadal. Andre Agassi was the last man to win all four Grand Slams when he won at Roland Garros in 1999.

Federer was made to work hard for a place in his third successive final at Roland Garros. After a nervoUS Opening set, which he lost 6-2, home favorite Gael Monfils found his rhythm and good form in the second set and, supported boisterously by the majority of Philippe Chatrier Court, presented a real challenge to Federer.

Federer broke early to lead 2-0 in the second set, capitalizing on the errors flowing from Monfils’ racquet, but immediately surrendered the break as he played a loose game and Monfils was able to level. The 21-year-old Monfils chased down every ball and his great athleticism caused no end of problems for Federer as he struggled to find a way past the French rising star. Serving at 5-6, Federer was forced to save one set point, but, when Monfils earned a second as Federer netted a volley, the World No. 1 was frustrated by Monfils’ inspired defensive abilities and miscued a forehand to surrender the set.

The Estoril champion recovered quickly from the dropped set and broke through to lead 2-1 in the second set as Monfils placed a forehand wide. Federer broke once more to lead 4-1 and, despite Monfils engineering one of the breaks back, was able to close out the set 6-3.

Both men had chances to seize the initiative in the fourth set, Federer saving six break points and Monfils saving two before the score line arrived at 5-4 in Federer’s favor. With the Frenchman serving, Federer played three marvelous points, including an ingenious drop shot out of nowhere, to earn two match points. However, Monfils stepped up to the challenge and, after a forehand wide from Federer cost him the first, a Monfils ace denied him the second.

After a comfortable Federer service hold, Monfils stepped up to serve at 5-6, and once more found himself match point down as some delightful net play from Federer saw a volley go past Monfils. At the third time of asking Federer took his chance, a backhand volley winner securing him the match and a place in the final after 3hr., 5min.

Federer will now have the chance to move to within one Grand Slam of Pete Sampras’ record 14 titles when he takes on Nadal in a 17th career meeting on Sunday. Nadal has won both their meetings so far in 2008, in the final of ATP Masters Series events in Monte Carlo and Hamburg, both on clay. Federer has won just one of their nine clay court matches, in the final of ATP Masters Series Hamburg last year, a victory that snapped Nadal’s 81-match clay court winning streak.

World No. 59 Monfils was contesting his first Grand Slam semifinal, his best previous result being a fourth round appearance at Roland Garros in 2006. He was the first Frenchman to be contesting a Roland Garros semifinal since Sebastien Grosjean in 2001.

After struggling with toe, foot, ankle, wrist and knee injuries since reaching a career high ranking of No. 23 in June 2006, Monfils is now projected to return to the Top 35 of the South African Airways ATP Rankings. In the quarterfinals Monfils battled past World No. 5 David Ferrer.

Rafa Races into Fourth Roland Garros Final
 
Rafael Nadal advanced to his fourth straight Roland Garros final and tightened his grip on the No. 2 spot in the South African Airways ATP Rankings with a 6-4, 6-2, 7-6(3) victory over No. 3 Novak Djokovic in Paris on Friday.

In extending his Roland Garros record to 27-0, three-time defending champion Nadal is now the first man since Ivan Lendl from 1984-1987 to reach four consecutive finals, and just the third man in the Open Era to do so. Bjorn Borg was the first player to achieve it, winning the title on all four occasions from 1978-1981 - the only player to win four consecutive titles since the event went international in 1925.

"I'm very happy I reached the final," said Nadal. "I played a great tournament, and I'm going to do everything I can to try and reach the summit. That would be my fourth victory in a row here, and that would be wonderful."

Nadal is attempting to join Bjorn Borg as the only player to win four consecutive titles since the tournament went international in 1925. (Only one other player has won four non-consecutive titles: Henri Cochet between 1926 and 1932.) Nadal becomes just the second player after Borg to reach the final at Roland Garros on two or more occasions without dropping a set, also doing so last year before dropping his only set of the tournament in the final against Roger Federer.

Friday’s semifinal clash between Nadal and Djokovic had at stake not only a place in the Roland Garros final, but also the No. 2 spot in the South African Airways ATP Rankings. It turned out to be a match that was largely dominated in the opening two sets by Nadal, who has enjoyed a 150 week reign at No. 2.

After being forced to save a break point in his opening service game, Djokovic succumbed to Nadal’s constant pressure soon after, losing his serve in the third game as Nadal’s deep hitting from the back of the court drove Djokovic back and forced the error. The Serbian was unable to generate any break points on Nadal’s serve throughout the set and, with his attacking play nullified by great defense from Nadal, he went on to lose the first set 6-4 after 57 minutes.

Nadal carried his momentum into the second set, immediately gaining a break of serve as a Djokovic forehand went wide. Closing in on his prey, Nadal did not ease up and, after saving the first break point against him at 2-1, went on to break Djokovic’s serve again in the fifth game with some devastating play on his forehand.

After going on to close out the set 6-2 with a forehand winner after 91 minutes, Nadal all but put the match out of Djokovic’s reach by going up a double break in the third set. The Spaniard continued to put as many balls back in play as possible, frustrating Djokovic and enticing more errors to race to a 3-0 lead.

However, Djokovic was not quite beaten and found his game as his aggressive play finally came to the fore, dictating to Nadal and earning him his first break of the match to pull the score back to 3-1. After having been denied the chance to level the set in the sixth game, Djokovic received a second chance with Nadal serving for the match at 5-4. Some inspired play from Djokovic earned him a break point and he leveled as Nadal netted a backhand under increasing pressure.

Playing Nadal at Roland Garros for the third straight year, Djokovic (pictured, right) had the chance to win his first set against the Spaniard at Roland Garros when he earned a set point after an effective return in the 12th game. However, Nadal denied him with a fine serve and, after holding serve, went on to take the match on the tie-break, racing through to win 7-3 and ultimately seal the victory after 2hr., 49min.

"The level of the two first sets was very good today. Almost perfect," Nadal said. So I'm happy about how I played today. It was my best match at Roland Garros. I was very dominant on the court. I could throw the ball anywhere I wanted. I was dominating both on my forehand and backhand, and I didn't have to think that I could make mistakes. That was key."

"The first two sets, especially the second set, was pretty bad for me," said Djokovic. "I wasn't finding any rhythm and making a lot of unforced errors. I wasn't moving the way I moved in our last match in Hamburg. I was making more mistakes than I should have. He showed again that in the most important moments he's very strong mentally, and why he is the defending champion of the French Open."

Manacor resident Nadal captured his first Roland Garros title in 2005 (d. Puerta), becoming the first player since Mats Wilander in 1982 to win the event on his debut. He then went on to win his second and third titles with victories over Federer in the 2006 and 2007 finals. Nadal has a stellar record on clay, losing just two of his past 116 matches since the start of 2005 ATP Masters Series Monte Carlo.

For the fourth successive year, Nadal came into Roland Garros having won at least three clay court titles. He successfully defended his titles at ATP Masters Series Monte-Carlo and Barcelona, before winning at ATP Masters Series Hamburg (d. Federer) for the first time.

The 21-year-old Djokovic, who was contesting his fifth consecutive Grand Slam semifinal, was bidding to reach his third successive final after finishing runner-up to Roger Federer at the US Open last year and capturing his first title at the Australian Open (d. Tsonga) in January.

Coming into Roland Garros, Djokovic was 28-6 on the season, having also captured titles at ATP Masters Series Indian Wells (d. Fish) and ATP Masters Series Rome (d. Wawrinka). He now drops to 37-7.

Despite the loss, Djokovic was feeling optimistic for the upcoming grass court season. "I'm only 21 years old and I played so much, you know, semifinals of the Grand Slam tournaments, and won a couple of majors and a Grand Slam itself, so I have no reason to be depressed. I just look forward to the future."

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