Federer fights back to reach final

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The Independent Online

Roger Federer stayed on course for a first French Open title after coming from two sets to one down to defeat Juan Martin del Potro in nerveless fashion in the Roland Garros semi-finals tonight.

The Swiss, bidding to complete his haul of the grand slams, recovered from a slow start to claim a 3-6 7-6 (7/2) 2-6 6-1 6-4 victory in three hours and 28 minutes.

The second seed will meet Robin Soderling in Sunday's final after the Swede defeated Fernando Gonzalez 6-3 7-5 5-7 4-6 6-4 earlier today in another thrilling five-setter to continue his remarkable run in Paris.

It was Federer's second five-set win this tournament - he was also taken the distance by Tommy Haas in the fourth round - and he has squeezed through to his fourth straight final here without being on top form.

When Federer, 27, lost the third set to Del Potro, the Argentinian was serving consistently and his powerful groundstrokes were proving too much for the world number two.

By that stage, Federer had only earned two break points, converting neither of them, but he turned that around to finish the stronger.

He is now just one win away from becoming the sixth player to complete a sweep of the Majors. The title here would also move him level with Pete Sampras on a record 14 grand-slam crowns.

Federer, installed as title favourite after Soderling dumped out reigning champion Rafael Nadal in round four, had won all his previous five meetings with Del Potro, not even dropping a set.

But he was broken in the fifth and ninth games to lose the first set here and Del Potro was dictating the rallies, feasting off Federer's weak and short backhands.

Del Potro played a poor second-set tie-break, sending four shots into the net to gift the Swiss the leveller, but he still held the whip hand and sped through a 36-minute third set during which he broke twice more.

As the South American tired, Federer found an extra gear, as he has done so often this past fortnight, and suddenly dominated Del Potro's serve.

Two breaks were sufficient to win the fourth set convincingly and he broke early in the fifth too.

Del Potro grabbed one himself as the light started to fade on Philippe Chatrier court, but he double-faulted in game seven to put Federer back in front.

This time, the Swiss did not falter.

Soderling had earlier come from 4-1 down in the fifth set to sink 12th seed Gonzalez in a riveting battle of the big hitters.

"My first feeling was relief because it was a long match and I was tired, but after a few seconds I got really, really happy," said Soderling, who was cheered on today by legendary Swede Bjorn Borg.

"If you'd have asked me a couple of years ago which grand slam I'd be playing a final in, I wouldn't have said Roland Garros."

The 23rd seed, who entered the history books after slaying Nadal last Sunday, went two sets ahead but was pegged back by Gonzalez, who showed great opportunism to nick the third and fourth on his only break points in those sets.

The Chilean forged 3-0 then 4-1 ahead in the decider, but Soderling reeled off five straight games to claim a superb win.

Gonzalez, a barrel-chested, bandana-wearing slugger, had left his previous opponents, which included Britain's Andy Murray, punch-drunk with his booming forehand but he met his match today, Soderling hitting 74 winners in total.

"I never felt comfortable on the court against him. He was playing at a really high level," said the 28-year-old, who, unhappy at a line call going against him at 4-4 in the fourth set, rubbed the alleged mark with his backside in a bizarre moment as the tension mounted.

"At 4-4 (in the fifth), I was really exhausted, both physically and mentally."

Soderling had never previously made it past the third round at a Major.