Federer shows his true class
Riding an astonishing wave of l'amour from his French disciples, Roger Federer offered conclusive evidence that reports of his demise have been exaggerated as he produced a masterful, vintage display to destroy Novak Djokovic's seemingly inexorable path to the final of the French Open and to the position of world No 1.
Rafael Nadal was home and hosed, waiting to discover who his final opponent would be, and must have found to his surprise -- and probably delight -- that he will now again meet his great Swiss rival for the fourth time in a French final following Federer's sensational 7-6 6-3 3-6 7-6 win, which he finally sealed at 9.40 local time with an ace and a roar of delight.
Billed by Nadal "as the greatest of the moment against the greatest of history", it was the latter who prevailed yet again to end Djokovic's streak of 41 straight wins this season -- and he did it by delivering the sort of sublime tennis that only he can play.
But Djokovic, demonstrating all the extraordinary never-say-die spirit which has carried him to within a match of equalling John McEnroe's record start to any season of 42 games, battled back to take the game to the verge of a fifth set which would have had to be finished today because the light would not have allowed it.
For 'the Serbinator', it was mission impossible, as he tried to become the first man in 174 Grand Slam matches to beat Federer from two sets down, but he did demonstrate all the spirit that has characterised his amazing year to take the third set and make a huge fight of the fourth.
Mats Wilander had called the two semi-finals "the greatest day in the history of men's tennis" and, even if that sounded a little hyperbolic, the standard of the matches, considering the difficult blustery conditions, was quite startling, some of the breathtaking virtuosity from Federer, the man many believe is being left behind by the dazzling new brigade, topping anything else seen during a fabulous day.
The pair had come on court to a fulsome tribute from Nadal who, after beating Andy Murray 6-4 7-5 6-4, was asked who would he rather play in the final?
"For me, the most important thing is to be there myself," Nadal said. "But there are no better players on the Tour than them."
Everyone had wondered how Djokovic's form might have been affected by his almost unprecedented four-day break in the middle of the tournament and, to start with, he looked like a bored holidaymaker as an absent-minded forehand wide gifted an immediate break.
When the sledgehammer shotmaking that has brought him 43 straight victories saw him break Federer in the middle of the set, it appeared the Serb had settled but he started struggling with his footwear, looking at his shoes accusingly as several times.
Federer was irrepressible, perhaps somehow freed by not having to live up to all the old expectations any more, and his forehand was working like the metronomic wand of old as he completely outplayed Djokovic in the second set.
Yet after saving set points before succumbing in the second set, Djokovic came out fighting in the third set, taking it 6-3. Suddenly, he had appeared to have discovered all his old fire, and when he broke Federer to serve for the fourth set at 5-4, it seemed the game was destined for a Saturday finish.
But the Swiss proved coolest, immediately breaking back and looking the more assured in the tie-break, which he wrapped up 7-5.
You simply cannot write off Federer -- not even against his French nemesis Nadal. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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