Federer shows finishing kick
Del Potro downed; Soderling is next
PARIS - Sentimental favorite Roger Federer did not quite follow the script yesterday at the French Open. He decided to go for high drama.
Striving to complete a career Grand Slam, Federer came from behind twice in the semifinals to beat big-serving Juan Martin del Potro, 3-6, 7-6 (7-2), 2-6, 6-1, 6-4.
"It feels great coming through tough matches like this," Federer said. "It's more emotional. It's more satisfaction."
Playing in his fourth consecutive Roland Garros final, Federer will try for his 14th major title to match Pete Sampras's record.
"There's still one more step," Federer said.
His opponent tomorrow will be No. 23-seeded Robin Soderling of Sweden, who extended his improbable Roland Garros run by beating No. 12 Fernando Gonzalez in another seesaw semifinal, 6-3, 7-5, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4.
With nemesis Rafael Nadal eliminated in the fourth round, Federer faces a less-daunting path to that elusive championship. He's 9-0 against Soderling.
But then Federer had swept his previous five matches and 12 sets against del Potro. The 6-foot-6-inch Argentine rose to the occasion in his first major semifinal and kept on the offensive for much of the match, but began to tire in the fourth set. Federer broke for the first time 2 1/2 hours into the match to lead, 3-1.
"The longer the match went, I was always confident with my physical abilities and mental abilities that I was going to turn it around," Federer said.
Del Potro lost his next two service games as well, allowing Federer to sweep seven games in a row and finally take the lead.
By then, Federer was in top form, gliding across the clay that has vexed him in the past. He won a frantic rally and a standing ovation by lunging to slice a forehand into the open court for a 3-1 lead in the fifth set. There were more highlight-reel shots down the stretch, and he closed the victory with forehand winners on back-to-back points.
Del Potro greeted him at the net with a handshake and a smile.
"I just congratulated him and wished him good luck," del Potro said. "I said everybody wants him to lift the trophy at the end."
In the all-Russian women's final today, top-ranked Dinara Safina will try for her first Grand Slam title against Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Federer trailed for much of the semifinal, struggling to hold serve and unable to break. Sensing his once-a-year opportunity again slipping away, he slapped himself in the face after losing one frantic rally.
Maybe that helped. And maybe he was buoyed by a crowd that kept chanting, "Ro-ger! Ro-ger."
Del Potro made one last charge in the final set, hitting several ferocious shots to break for 3-all. But he missed all eight first serves in the next game and finally dumped a weary second serve into the net on break point.
"I feel so sad," del Potro said. "I really wanted to be in that final, and now I'm going to have to watch it on TV."
Federer looked out of sorts early, failing to convert two early break points and losing serve at 2-all. He twice fell behind, love-40, and shanked an easy overhead, perhaps a sign of nerves.
Federer served better in the second set but was broken when he played a sloppy game to start the third and again found himself trailing a bigger, younger, more powerful opponent.
One point-blank exchange forced Federer to retrieve three del Potro volleys, and he failed to reach a fourth. A game later, del Potro closed the third set, before Federer mounted his latest comeback. He overcame a two-set deficit to beat Tommy Haas in the fourth round.
Against Gonzalez, Soderling let a big lead slip away when he lost his serve in the final game of the third and fourth sets. He fell behind, 3-0 and 4-1, in the final set, but down the stretch came up with the kind of shotmaking that has carried him through the tournament, and he swept the last five games.
"I had maybe the biggest challenge in tennis right now to beat Nadal here on clay in Paris," he said. "I was still in the tournament, so even though I played a great match, I wanted more. I still feel that way."