June 3, 2011 -- Roger Federer put an end to Novak Djokovic's six-month domination, denying him a trip to the Roland Garros final, the #1 world ranking, and a chance to equal John McEnroe's 42-match winning streak set in 1984, when the Swiss toppled Djokovic in the second semifinal today in Paris.
Federer's four-set win over the #2 seed came as a surprise to many, as he had rebutted all opponents, including three wins over Federer since January.
Federer was the last person to defeat Djokovic in the Barclay's ATP World Tour Finals in London last year, making him the perfectly suited player to put a halt to the Serbian's command.
The soon-to-turn-thirty Federer -- or as Mary Carillo, announcing for NBC affectionately called him, "Gramps" -- took major risks on all fronts of his game throughout the match and especially in the last set as twilight engulfed Stade Roland Garros and darkness threatened to end the match.
Federer saved both players the agony of returning to Centre Court tomorrow morning, before the Women's Championships, when he punctuated his victory with an ace, his third of the 4th set tiebreak, winning the match 76(5) 63 36 76(5).
"I've trained a lot during my whole life for these kinds of matches," Federer said, as reported by the Associated Press (AP). "There was an enormous amount of pressure on Novak and he really played well."
Awaiting Federer in Sunday's final is Rafael Nadal, the #1 seed. Nadal advanced after defeating Andy Murray 64, 75, 64, earlier in the day.
Nadal and Federer have played five finals in Paris, Nadal winning all five. If Rafa dominates Federer in this final and wins for the sixth time, he will have equaled Bjorn Borg's record.
"Beating Novak today was maybe a good birthday gift for him because he lost his four previous matches against Novak," Federer said about Nadal, via the AP. Nadal celebrated his 25th birthday today. "I'm going to play against Nadal, my main rival, in another Grand Slam final. We live for these moments."
Federer pointed a finger to the sky and strutted a couple step before breaking into a loud yell of victory, at the close of the match. He appeared a bit cocky, which is odd to have seen, but his gestures were honest and reflected his joy.
Novak Djokovic hadn't stepped on court since his win earlier this week in the fourth round over Richard Gasquet. Djokovic had five days to rest, relax, and practice.
"[It's] a really strange situation being in the second week of a slam. I don't think it will affect my rhythm," Djokovic told John McEnroe, after being asked about his extended down time. Djokovic went on to say his winning streak, which includes seven titles since January, came from self-belief. "I'm mentally stable and physically fit."
The five-day break, though, did unnerve Djokovic. He came out nervous and uncharacteristically off rhythm, giving Federer a wide-open court to make his mark on another windy day in Paris.
Djokovic went down two sets, leaving fans on the edge of their seats. Could Federer really upset the projected winner?
Federer kept rallies down the middle of the court, initially, until he could open it enough to go for a winner or setup shot. By doing that he narrowed angles coming off Djokovic's racquet. Djokovic changes the ball's direction better than almost anyone on tour. Federer wanted to contain that asset.
"I really wanted to make it as physical as possible, which I was able to make happen," Federer said, as reported on ATP website. "I was really happy with the way I played. I thought it was a great match from both sides."
Federer also took huge risks on his second serve. At least four times he ripped serves when Djokovic sat on a break. On the 11th game in the fourth set, and after missing multiple first serves, Federer unleashed a corker down the service tee clocked at 112 MPH. These wagers emphasized Federer's bold mentality and execution.
Mats Wilander was one of the first to pronounce Federer's lack of courage, when facing a Nadal or a Djokovic, two men who consistently barraged Federer's backhand off the ground and on serves. "Federer has to gamble more against these guys," Wilander said emphatically.
Today the gamble paid off big time for Federer.
With two sets to his favor, Federer was poised to win in three. He hadn't dropped a set since the beginning of the tournament. However, Djokovic poured his heart out in the third. He showed off his winning style: deep penetrating ground strokes, precise serving, and a lightening quick return of serve. All Federer could do was try and get out of the way of those returns.
They stayed on serve in the fourth, until Djokovic broke Roger and threatened to take them to five. After the changeover, though, Federer was a transformed man. He looked as relaxed as someone who'd been on vacation. He passed Djokovic with masterful down-the-line backhand winners and cross-court forehands that reminded fans of his ability to take advantage of tough match situations.
Federer now holds an impressive 175-0 win/loss record in a major, after having won the first two sets.
Federer will compete in his 23rd Grand Slam final on Sunday. He hasn't played in once since the 2010 Australian Open, where he defeated Andy Murray for a 16th Major win. Nadal defeated Federer in Paris 2006 - 2008. Federer won in 2009.
"I have another opportunity to beat Rafa here and get the Roland Garros title," Federer said. "I've got to play some extraordinarily special tennis. I'm aware of that. But I obviously took a huge step today, and hope I can get everything together for the final."