PARIS As the points piled up and the light faded, it was tough to decide which scenario had seemed less likely at the outset of the French Open semifinals Friday:
That Rafael Nadal would be so dominant during a 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (3) victory over Novak Djokovic, a man who is, after all, ranked No. 3 and a Grand Slam champion?
Or that Roger Federer would run into so much trouble before winning 6-2, 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 against Gael Monfils, a man who is, after all, ranked 59th and a major semifinalist for the first time?
Then again, by the end of the day, Roland Garros once more produced the likeliest of all championship matches: No. 1 Federer vs. No. 2 Nadal.
"Rafa again, across the net it's the ultimate test on clay. It would be so much better to win the French Open by beating him," Federer said. "It should be entertaining to watch."
The showdown Sunday is their third consecutive French Open final, their fifth Grand Slam final overall, and plenty is on the line.
Nadal can become the first man since Bjorn Borg in 1978-81 to win the tournament four years in a row. Federer can add the lone major trophy missing from his collection, thereby making him the sixth man to complete a career Grand Slam and increasing his total haul to 13 majors, one shy of Pete Sampras' record.
"What's special is winning the tournament, not beating Federer," said Nadal's uncle and coach, Toni. "But if Rafael beats Federer, it means more."
Federer is 6-10 overall against Nadal, including 1-8 on clay and 0-3 at the French Open, where they also met in the 2005 semifinals.
"I will try everything," Federer said. "I hope I will finally win here."
Nadal hasn't lost at Roland Garros. Ever. He improved to 27-0 by beating Djokovic, who won the Australian Open in January and would have overtaken Nadal in the rankings by beating him.
But by the sixth game, Djokovic's cheeks were flush from exertion and he was gasping for air. Nadal make him look like a first-round opponent who had come through qualifying.
"Almost perfect," was the way Nadal described his performance. "Best match at Roland Garros so far, no?"
Federer's semifinal was second, so he took advantage of the opportunity to watch his nemesis.
"Rafa played fantastic for basically the entire time," said Federer, who helped his own cause by winning the point on 49 of 64 trips to the net against Monfils.
Nadal does his finest work along the baseline, and the longer the point, the better, as far as he's concerned. Against Djokovic, he won 32 of the 48 points that lasted at least 10 strokes, according to a tally compiled by The Associated Press.
In addition to showing up on the scoreboard, each of those extended rallies often prolonged by Nadal's tremendous defense can take a toll on an opponent's body and morale.
"Sometimes," Djokovic acknowledged, "it's really frustrating when you can't make a winner."
He didn't register his second forehand winner until the second set, which says far less about Djokovic's ability than Nadal's knack for getting to the ball.
Djokovic finally made a stand after trailing 3-0 in the third set, but by then the final outcome hardly seemed in doubt. Even French tennis federation president Christian Bimes, seated next to Borg in the front row, motioned toward someone with a pinkie and thumb near an ear, the international signal for, "Let's talk on the phone."
Djokovic reached set point while leading 6-5 in the third, but Nadal erased that with a cross-court forehand that wrong-footed the Serb. Later, Nadal said he was trying to hit a safe shot, not a winner. That's how things went for the Spaniard, who then built a 6-0 lead in the tiebreaker.
"He showed again that in the most important moments, he's very strong mentally," Djokovic said.
The same could be said of Federer, who reached his 15th Grand Slam final, tied for fifth-most in history.
Monfils, an enthusiastic Frenchman backed Friday by about 15,000 of his closest friends in the center court stands, is unaccustomed to this sort of high-pressure match, having never before been beyond the fourth round at a major. He began the match by double-faulting on the way to getting broken at love, something he later attributed to contact-lens problems.
"The key to the match," Federer called that start. "He was always trailing."
Well, not quite, because when Federer dumped a volley into the net, then shanked a forehand, Monfils broke him to take the second set. All even. Monfils strutted to the sideline pounding his chest with a fist.
When Monfils held for a 1-0 lead in the third, he technically was ahead, but Federer broke two games later. There were worrisome moments to come for Federer, including when he blew a set point and was broken while serving for the third set at 5-3. He broke right back, however.
Little came easy in the fourth set, either, when Monfils earned six break points, two at a time at 1-1, 2-2 and 3-3. Federer saved them all, making him 10-for-13 for the match. -->
Monfils kept things interesting, saving two match points one with a 128-mph ace while trailing 5-4 in the fourth set. When the 21-year-old who shows up at postmatch news conferences wearing NFL or college football jerseys held to 5-5 with a 124-mph service winner, he stood in the middle of the court and raised his arms, encouraging the partisan crowd to get louder.
"I thought that would put pressure on Roger," Monfils said, "but he didn't feel any pressure."
Alas for the locals, Monfils wouldn't win another game.
Federer finished him off with two volley winners, then shook his racket as he skipped to the net, knowing full well what awaits."Honestly, I felt relief," Federer said. "And then, 5 or 10 seconds later, I started thinking about another final. That's where I want to be."
French Open at a glance
PARIS (AP) A look at the French Open on Friday:
Men's Semifinals: No. 1 Roger Federer of Switzerland def. Gael Monfils of France 6-2, 5-7, 6-3, 7-5; No. 2 Rafael Nadal of Spain def. No. 3 Novak Djokovic of Serbia 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (3).
Women's Final Today: No. 2 Ana Ivanovic of Serbia vs. No. 13 Dinara Safina of Russia, both seeking a first Grand Slam title.
Men's Final Sunday: Federer vs. Nadal, a rematch of the 2006 and 2007 French Open finals, both won by Nadal.
Saturday's TV: NBC, 7-10 a.m. MDT