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 yesterday's French Open semifinals:
That Rafael Nadal would be so dominant during a 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (3) victory over Novak Djokovic, 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, 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 tomorrow is their third consecutive French Open final and their fifth Grand Slam final overall. Nadal can become the first man since Bjorn Borg in 1978-81 to win the tournament 4 years in a row, while Federer can add the lone major trophy missing from his collection, thereby making him the sixth man to complete a career Grand Slam.
"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."
"I will try everything," Federer said. "I hope I will finally win here." *