The historians wanted it, the fans demanded it and Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal duly obliged on Friday by setting up a dream final at the French Open.
Federer earned the chance to reignite the most intriguing rivalry in the sport when he wore down the dogged resilience of Nikolay Davydenko 7-5 7-6 7-6 in a three-hour duel.
In the end, the Swiss maestro won only eight more points than the Russian fourth seed to march into an eighth successive grand-slam final, breaking the record he had shared with Australian Jack Crawford.
”It was a wonderful match, I could have lost in three sets but I won,” Federer said courtside as he ran his fingers through his soaking hair.
Nadal flexed his bulging biceps to flatten Serbian tyro Novak Djokovic 7-5 6-4 6-2, taking his Roland Garros streak to 20-0. More significantly it kept him in line to match Bjorn Borg’s hat-trick of trophies achieved in 1980.
Sixth seed Djokovic had ridden on a wave of Serbian fervour to reach his first grand slam semifinal, doing so without facing a single player in the top 50.
It did not take world number two Nadal long to remind his rival that he belonged to a different league.
Djokovic, at 20 the youngest of the four semifinalists, once again donned his lucky yellow shirt but it could not save him from a mauling in the final set.
After two sets of darting around like a wild boar, Djokovic’s sweat-streaked face told it’s own story while Nadal shot menacing glares and completed his business with a fizzing forehand winner.
”He’s physically stronger than any other player but I’m young and my time will come,” Djokovic said after he lost his chance to become the first Serbian man to reach a major final.
For the second year running, Federer will attempt to emulate American Don Budge and his hero Rod Laver by becoming only the third man to hold all four grand slam trophies at the same time.
‘I couldn’t handle Nadal’
Twelve months ago, Federer came within two sets of achieving the feat until Nadal rudely broke the spell and reasserted his status as the best claycourter of his generation.
But the Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open champion pricked Nadal’s aura of invincibility when he snapped the Spaniard’s 81-match winning streak on clay in last month’s Hamburg Masters final and will be eager to replicate the feat.
”Last year I came out of the blocks very, very strong with a great first set but after that, I couldn’t handle Nadal,” said Federer, who is in pursuit of an 11th major but has never won in Paris.
”So I hope this year’s going to be different.”
On Friday, however, Federer was slow out of the blocks and had to claw his way back from a break down in each set.
Davydenko broke in the opening game of the match and had four more chances to widen the gulf to 5-2. Federer dug himself out of trouble with a vicious kicking second serve and after pulling level in the next game he snatched the first set when the Russian tipped a backhand long.
Showing flashes of brilliance, Federer stole the second 7-5 on a tiebreak.
Davydenko nosed ahead 3-1 in the third, but from then on Federer conjured one master stroke after another to win the points that mattered. – Reuters