PARIS (Reuters) - Overcoming a fervent French crowd and a near sandstorm of claydust, Roger Federer proved he was ready to take on the ultimate challenge of trying to beat the seemingly invincible Novak Djokovic in the French Open semi-finals.
The third seed glided past Frenchman Gael Monfils 6-4 6-3 7-6 in Tuesday’s last-eight contest and now the clash every neutral wanted to see looms later this week when Djokovic will be bidding for a record-equaling 42nd straight win in 2011.
“I think there is less at stake for me than him,” Federer told a news conference where questions about Djokovic, already in the last four after his quarter-final opponent Fabio Fognini withdrew, dominated.
“I’m looking forward to the match. We always play well against each other.”
Second seed Djokovic has beaten Federer in their last three meetings and another victory would send the Serb to world number one, but the Swiss is arguably playing better than he ever has on his least favorite clay surface.
A vicious wind gusted around Court Philippe Chatrier on Tuesday and led to play being held up momentarily.
Hopes that ninth seed Monfils could produce a shock also swirled around Roland Garros’ central arena when Federer double faulted and lost his serve in the third game of the first set.
However, that was to be as good as it got for the French fans who by the end were literally falling over themselves to see the record 16-times grand slam champion.
As he signed autographs when leaving the court, a young female spectator took a nasty tumble on to the clay but always the gentleman, Federer helped pick her up, gave her a hug and posed for a photograph.
The Swiss has not dropped a set at this year’s tournament and although there were a few chinks in his armor, he was ruthless when needed against the athletic but still raw Monfils.
“I’m obviously proud of this achievement,” Federer added.
“I never diverted from my plan of focusing on myself. I’m very happy with the way I’m playing. Windy conditions change everything. Gael wasn’t serving as he could today.”
The Frenchman had lost twice previously to Federer at Roland Garros before finally beating him at the opposite end of the French capital at the Paris Masters in Bercy last year.
A repeat looked unlikely as soon as he gave away his early lead and fired a forehand wide to hand Federer the first set.
They exchanged breaks again early in the second but Monfils, who turned his back on the blowing dust as Federer stood steadfast, then double faulted to help send his opponent two up.
That calamity had Monfils smashing his racket to the ground and although he pushed Federer in the final set, the 2009 winner easily wrapped up the tiebreak 7-3.
“My biggest chance was in the first set,” Monfils said.
“I don’t know who will win (between Federer and Djokovic). But Roger still has lots of ambition. It will be a super match.”
Editing by Pritha Sarkar