With just two victories separating Roger Federer from that trophy and with no Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray in sight, Federer was ready to accept the obvious on Wednesday at the French Open.
“It’s true that I’m the big favorite now,” Federer said, his ball cap perched on his left knee and a smile coming easily to his familiar face. “But I was really nervous yesterday and today, because I knew this match against Monfils would be tricky.”
With his elastic power, sprinter’s speed and ability to feed off a home crowd, Gael Monfils was clearly one of the young men to be avoided at this French Open. But Federer coolly worked and served his way past the 11th-seeded Monfils in their quarterfinal, 7-6 (6), 6-2, 6-4, showing little of the edginess that had riddled some of his early-round matches with mis-hits and doubt.
The key was the first set, in which Federer fought off three break points and a set point in the tiebreaker. Monfils, an emotive sort, then drooped noticeably for a few games and the lull gave Federer all the momentum he required to roll to victory without once losing his serve.
“My problem in this tournament is I’ve had lots of problems at the start of my matches,” said Federer who had to rally from a two-set deficit in the fourth round to beat Tommy Haas. “I just couldn’t really shake free. Today for the first time I felt I could play a bit more comfortably, and you could see it in my style of play. I hope you’ll see it in my next match. My next two matches.”
The second-seeded Federer also beat Monfils in last year’s semifinals. This year, his opponent Friday will be No. 5 seed Juan MartÌn del Potro, the tall, powerful and deceptively mobile 20-year-old Argentine who advanced by defeating Tommy Robredo of Spain. Though Robredo, a four-time French Open quarterfinalist, had much more experience, Del Potro was the more poised and powerful force, winning, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.
There will be a new men’s champion and a new women’s champion at Roland Garros. Robin Soderling of Sweden expanded the men’s possibilities by shocking Nadal on Sunday in the fourth round. On Wednesday, Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia eliminated Serena Williams, the only woman remaining who had won the singles title.
In Thursday’s other semifinal, No. 1 seed Dinara Safina of Russia will play another unfamiliar contender: 20th seed Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia.
The warm, dry weather has created quick conditions that benefit attacking players like Federer and Stosur, whose heavy serve and forehand are leaping off the clay more than usual.
Federer had not won a tournament this year until he beat Nadal in the final in Madrid, but he is riding an 11-match winning streak along with a more mind-boggling streak. Federer has extended his record by reaching his 20th consecutive Grand Slam semifinal.
But what matters most to Federer is winning here for the first time, which would allow him to tie Pete Sampras’ record of 14 major singles titles. Even Monfils would like to see him do it and told him so at the net.