Roger Federer moved to within one match of finally winning the French Open when he came from behind to defeat giant Argentinean Juan Martin del Potro in Friday’s semi-finals.
The second seed, who has lost the last three finals here to Rafael Nadal, took everything Del Potro could fling at him and then pounced when the South American wilted to win a cliff-hanger 3-6 7-6 (7-2) 2-6 6-1 6-4.
In Sunday’s final he will take on Swedish surprise Robin Soderling who sent top seed Nadal crashing out in a fourth round shocker.
Soderling, seeded 23, had earlier reached the championship match with a battling 6-3 7-5 5-7 4-6 6-4 semi-final win over Fernando Gonzalez of Chile.
One step closer
It was the second five-setter for Federer in the tournament having battled back from two sets to love down against Tommy Haas in the fourth round.
“That’s one more step and I am so happy to have comeback like that,” he said.
“For a moment there Juan Martin was playing so well, but I had some luck on my side and I fought hard.
“Soderling played a great match against Gonzalez to be in the final. He deserves to be there because he also beat Nadal and he was the man to beat in this tournament.”
Del Potro had dropped just the one set en route to the last four while Federer had dropped four, but with the world No.2 having won all five of their previous matches in straight sets he was the big favourite.
Federer had the first break point to go 3-1 up, but failed to take it and quickly fell 0-40 down on his following serve.
He staved off two of the break points against him, but Del Potro converted the third to lead 3-2.
Del Potro easily held his next two serves hitting his first serves at well over 200 kilometres per hour and there was a stunned silence as he then broke Federer to love in the following game taking the set in 38 minutes.
Federer steadied the ship as they moved on to the second set but he was still unable to put any real pressure on the South American’s big serve which he was holding with ease.
Serves dominated until the 10th game when Federer chose the wrong time to come into the net on a first serve and allowed Del Potro to blast a backhand past him.
Federer fights back
The Argentinian got to 0-30 before Federer clawed his way back eliciting a huge roar of approval from a packed centre court crowd.
Still Federer could do nothing to menace the Del Potro serve and it needed a superb tie-break from him, taking the first three points and then winning it 7/2, to avoid having to face a two sets to love deficit for the second time in the tournament.
Federer let out a roar of self-encouragement as he clinched that, but the frown was back on his face minutes later when he played a loose service game to hand back the initiative to Del Potro at the start of the third set.
Del Potro had two further break points in the fifth game to take a 4-1 lead, but he was a fraction wide on a forehand blast on the second of those and Federer held for 3-2.
Two games later, however, Federer let Del Potro off the hook when he was stranded at the net hitting three times straight at him and he paid the penalty when the Argentinian went on to grab a double break.
Once again he comfortably served out to take a two sets to one lead.
Federer finally had another break point to lead 2-0 in the fourth set but Del Potro wiped that out with a big forehand into the corner followed by a pair of big serves.
Del Potro comes undone
Two games later though Del Potro finally wavered on his serve and Federer pounced to take a 3-1 lead. He then ran off the next three games as Del Potro started to unravel.
The South American was on the ropes, his service game stalling, and Federer showed no mercy to break him in the opening game of the deciding set.
Del Potro did get back on level terms 3-3 by breaking Federer in the sixth game, but he dropped his own in the next game double faulting on break point to hand the Swiss player the final opening he needed.
The win put the Swiss star into his 19th Grand Slam final, equalling the record of Ivan Lendl.
A 14th Grand Slam title win here on Sunday would put Federer level with Pete Sampras and lend weight to the argument that he is the greatest player of all time.
He has won his nine previous matches against Soderling dropping just a single set in the process. They have met once this year with Federer winning 6-1 7-5 on the way to the Madrid claycourt title last month.