Federer rallies round to set up dream final

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The Independent Online

The purists will no doubt stress - quite correctly - that if Federer adds the Coupe des Mousquetaires to his current Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open trophies his achievement will not constitute a Grand Slam.

The term, adapted from bridge, was coined in 1933 by the New York Times columnist, Jack Kiernan, to describe Jack Crawford's attempt to complete the full set of that year's majors by winning the US Open. The Australian was foiled by Britain's Fred Perry and it was not until five years later that Donald Budge became the first to perform the feat, which has been matched only by Rod Laver, in 1962 and 1969.

For a while it seemed that Federer would be denied his chance by the only player other than Nadal to have beaten him in the last 14 months. David Nalbandian led 6-3, 3-0 and although Federer quickly recovered his poise, the world No 1's passage was confirmed only when his opponent retired with an abdominal injury as he trailed 3-6, 6-4, 5-2. Nadal, meanwhile, overpowered Ivan Ljubicic 6-4, 6-2, 7-6.

The French Open is the only Grand Slam tournament Federer has never won. His best performance came when Nadal beat him in last year's semi-finals and the Spaniard has won all three of their subsequent meetings, all in finals this year - Nadal won on a hard court in Dubai and on clay in Monte Carlo and Rome.

However, Federer believes he has been getting closer, having failed to convert two match points on their last meeting.

While Nadal has had some physically testing matches here, Federer has enjoyed a comparatively comfortable fortnight. "One thing's for sure - I won't lose because I'm tired," he said. "I'm feeling good enough and I know that I'm playing well. I've got to play like I did in Rome, being aggressive and patient.

"I think Rome and Monte Carlo showed that we were the best players on clay this season and being No 1 and No 2 in the world makes this pretty special. It's actually pretty nice that many of the players root for me in the locker-room. They would obviously like to see me do it. It would be something quite incredible."

In his first dozen games yesterday Federer could hardly keep the ball in court. With one extraordinary stroke, however, he changed his game around. Nalbandian looked to have hit a winning shot, skidding low to Federer's right, but the Swiss somehow dug the ball out and sliced a cross-court winner which left his opponent staring in amazement.

Federer hit an even more spectacular winner three games later, chasing back to retrieve a lob before turning to flick a forehand passing shot down the line. "All that squash I played in my early years with my father is paying off," Federer said with a smile. Nalbandian's verdict was more succinct: "Incredible. Incredible."

Having won only three of the first 12 games Federer lost just three of the next 14, but while he had gone into overdrive Nalbandian was about to hit the wall. In the middle of the second set the Argentine aggravated an injury which he had suffered in his previous match and eventually retired at 5-2 down in the third set.

Nadal, who was given a time violation warning by the umpire for taking what Ljubicic described as a "ridiculous" amount of time between points, won in two hours and 49 minutes. For two sets Ljubicic could hardly get a ball past the Spaniard, who retrieved shots from every corner, and although he responded well in the third set Nadal won the tie-break 9-7. A clearly unhappy Ljubicic hurried off the court at the end, but nobody else was complaining. Tomorrow promises to be some occasion.