The world No 1 went on to beat David Nalbandian 6-3 3-6 7-6 to earn a place against Rafael Nadal in today's Rome Masters final, but an error-strewn match will be best remembered for Federer's John McEnroe impersonation in the first game of the final set.
The Federer forehand is arguably the most formidable shot in men's tennis, but three errors on that flank put Nalbandian on break point and a fourth saw the toys fly out of the Swiss pram.
Federer threw his racket so hard that the manufacturers will probably use video footage of the incident to prove the durability of their product. There were no further incidents of racket rage, but for the rest of the match Federer appeared less than happy.
This will go into the record books as a welcome victory for Federer over an opponent who had won six of their previous 10 encounters, but it was a curious match of high highs and low lows, particularly from the Swiss, who set a trend when he dropped his serve in the first game thanks to three forehand errors and a double fault. The first four games all went against serve.
Nalbandian, who beat Federer in their previous meeting, in the final of last year's Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai, recovered well after losing the first set. When he consolidated his opening break in the third set to lead 2-0 it seemed that the Argentinian might be on his way to his 10th successive victory on clay, having won his first ATP title of the year at Estoril last week.
However, Federer, putting his game and his temper back together, won four games in a row and was never behind again, apart from a brief stutter at the start of the tie-break, which he won 7-5.
After the match Federer was asked whether throwing his racket had helped him. "It never helps, but I wasn't happy at that moment so I thought it was worth doing for a change," he said.
Having beaten one of the three active players who have the edge over him in head-to-head records, Federer today meets a second (the third is Tim Henman). Rafael Nadal, who had little trouble beating France's Gaël Monfils 6-2 6-2 in the second semi-final, has lost only one of five matches against Federer and is the only player to beat him this year, in the Dubai and Monte Carlo finals.
Federer has reached the final of the last 13 tournaments he has played, while Nadal will be attempting to win his 53rd match in succession on clay, which would equal the record for the surface set 29 years ago by Guillermo Vilas. Nadal, the world No 2, insists he will be the underdog - "the No 1 is always the favourite," he said - but on present form it would take a brave man to bet against him.Reuse content