PARIS (Reuters) - Roger Federer failed to break his Paris Masters jinx when he fluffed five match points in a 7-6 6-7 7-6 semi-final defeat by local favorite Gael Monfils on Saturday.
The 12th-seeded Monfils will meet Robin Soderling in Sunday’s final after the Swede saved three match points before ending Frenchman Michael Llodra’s brilliant run with a 6-7 7-5 7-6 win.
Federer had five match points at 6-5 up in the final set but Monfils saved them to force a tiebreak, which he won 7-4.
While the 16-times grand slam champion will have to wait at least another 12 months to land a maiden Paris Masters title, Monfils will contest his second successive final here.
“I tried to stick to my tactics but it was not easy because Roger served pretty well throughout,” Monfils said courtside.
“I tried to do simple things, to be aggressive. I did it, it’s wonderful.”
Backed by the 14,500 Bercy crowd, Monfils put Federer under pressure from the start as the former world number one had to see off three break points.
After failing to convert his chances, the Frenchman came out all guns blazing in the first set tiebreak and bagged it 9-7.
Just when it seemed that the Frenchman was within touching distance of his first win over Federer, Monfils lost his cool and his way to surrender the second-set tiebreak 7-1.
The Swiss was on a roll and opened a 3-0 lead in the decider as he effortlessly outpaced Monfils. Monfils did not give up and upped the pace to level for 4-4.
The Swiss had five match points while 6-5 up but ended up spraying the stands with misfiring forehands. Monfils snatched his chance in the final tiebreaker, ending a two-hour 41-minute contest with a service winner.
“Tough match. Obviously very much a serving contest,” Federer told reporters.
“This is where I have some regrets: I don’t even remember if he played well or if I played bad. I was feeling good in this tournament until now. Of course this hurts. Maybe on breakpoints I could have played better, maybe on one or two.”
Llodra came within a point of making it an all-French final but simply could not close out his match against twice French Open runner-up Soderling.
Llodra, who knocked out holder Novak Djokovic and Russian Nikolay Davydenko in the previous rounds, went on the attack, unsettling Soderling with impressive volleys to bag the opening set 7-0 in the tiebreak.
Soderling, who had lost both his previous encounters with Llodra, turned around the situation, keeping his opponent behind his baseline to level the tie.
The Swede saved three match points on his serve in the decider and then tied up the match 8-6 in the tiebreak.
“It is my third final in Paris, I hope I’ll win this one,” Soderling, who lost the last two French Open finals to Federer and Rafael Nadal, told a courtside interviewer.
“I gave everything today, I was close,” said Llodra. “Obviously I am disappointed but I still have a great goal: the Davis Cup final and we will need you,” the world number 34 told the crowd.
France travel to Serbia for the Davis Cup final from December 3-5.
Editing by Pritha Sarkar and Clare Fallon