World number one Roger Federer and number two Rafael Nadal set up a dream finish to the French Open on Friday by advancing to the final.
Federer (24) made his first Roland Garros title match as Argentina’s David Nalbandian retired injured while the Swiss player was leading 3-6, 6-4, 5-2 in their semifinal tie.
Reigning champion Nadal was his usual unstoppable self in storming past world number four Ivan Ljubicic 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (9/7) to reach Sunday’s final.
He never gave the Croatian a chance, breaking once in the first and twice in the second before securing victory on his second match point in the third.
Ljubicic had said before the match that Nadal’s record winning streak on clay — now standing at 59 matches — had to come to an end at some point but he was not the man to do it and never really looked like he believed in his chances.
Nadal, not known as a big server, hit three aces in the tie-break.
”I am happy because I took a lot of risks with my serve,” the Spaniard said. ”I hit three aces in the tie-break and that’s not normal, especially with my serve. But I played with a lot of risk and this time I converted.”
Looking ahead to the showdown with Federer, Nadal admitted he was excited.
”I am excited because I will play the final of Roland Garros. For sure it’s exciting because it’s the one and two, but the final of a Grand Slam is always big match.”
Ljubicic seemed irritated with the 20-year-old at the end, particularly over the amount of time Nadal takes between points.
When asked who he would be rooting for in the final, he replied: ”I would love to hear Roger winning. Everyone in the locker room would. He’s the best player ever in tennis so it would be nice to see him lifting the trophy here.”
Federer now sits on the brink of history as he became only the third man to reach four successive Grand Slam finals.
If he wins, he will match Rod Laver’s 1969 record of holding all four titles at the same time.
”I was hoping to get the opportunity to win my first French Open, and you only get that opportunity once you reach the final,” said Federer, who had only once before made it to the last four.
”The quarterfinal and semifinal is nice, but you want to go out there on Sunday.”
Third seed Nalbandian suffered an abdominal strain in the second set and although he tried to continue he eventually called it quits as Federer threatened to canter off into the distance.
It was a recurrence of an injury Nalbandian felt in the previous round against Russian Nikolay Davydenko, only worse.
”It’s never easy when you lose and when you get injured it’s worse. I felt I was playing well tactically, the match was going perfectly, but with these things you never know and that’s the way it is.”
Nalbandian had started so well, breaking three of Federer’s opening six service games, but from 6-3, 3-0 he won only three of the next 11 games.
Federer was unusually slow out of the blocks and made a host of errors, but he looked unruffled as Nalbandian produced his best tennis to open up a commanding lead.
But Federer hit back in fine fashion.
In one rally he looked dead and buried as a Nalbandian lob dipped into the far corner, only for a backtracking Federer to reach it and, with his back to the court, hit a sensational flicked passing shot down the line.
For the Swiss, that was the turning point. ”I thought somehow I have to find a way to get into this match,” said Federer. ”I was not playing well; he was playing the way you are supposed to in the wind, making no errors.
”I couldn’t get the ball in play, I was shocked, something had to happen. I made a shot like this. You can’t pull those off on a consistent basis but they give you a bit of tailwind, something extra.
”They get you going and I needed it at that point.”
The crowd rose as one in rapturous applause and the Swiss master tellingly lifted one finger to the sky.
Nalbandian had only one word to describe that shot: ”Incredible,” he said with an admiring smile as if he felt honoured to have been on court with the great man at the time he played it. — AFP