PARIS - Fresh off a ragged, rugged, five-set French Open semifinal victory yesterday, Roger Federer was leaving Roland Garros when some fans drew his attention.
They wanted photos and autographs, and Federer obliged, signing hats, a poster, even one guy's white polo shirt. As Federer ambled off, a man shouted: "Win on Sunday! Please!"
Pausing for a moment before sliding into a car, Federer turned and, with a quick wave of his right arm, replied, "OK."
For all his accomplishments, trophies and records, Federer now needs to do the one thing he never has: win a French Open.
By coming back to beat No. 5-seed Juan Martin del Potro, 3-6, 7-6 (2), 2-6, 6-1, 6-4, yesterday, Federer moved to within one victory of his first French Open championship. If he can beat No. 23 Robin Soderling tomorrow, Federer will tie Pete Sampras' career mark of 14 Grand Slam singles titles, and he will become only the sixth man with a career Grand Slam, at least one title from each of tennis' four majors.
"There's still one more step," Federer said.
He has lost each of the past three French Open finals to Rafael Nadal, along with a semifinal 4 years ago. But this time, Nadal was eliminated by Soderling in the fourth round.
"Obviously, it's nice to see someone else for a change," Federer said.
Federer has a 9-0 career record against Soderling, who will be playing in his first Grand Slam final.
In today's women's final, world No. 1 Dinara Safina feels ready to win her first Grand Slam title.
Safina is half of the third all-Russian major championship match, facing countrywoman Svetlana Kuznetsova.
"It's one step easier because I'm already No. 1, so nobody can take it away from me," Safina said yesterday, referring to her losses to Serena Williams in this year's Australian Open final and to Ana Ivanovic in last year's French Open final. "Just one more step I need to do."
Safina took over as the top-ranked player in April, and she has reached the final in the four tournaments she has played since, all on clay. In 21 matches she has lost only once - to Kuznetsova.
Now it's time for a rematch against Kuznetsova, the 2004 U.S. Open champion who has been a friend and rival since their days as juniors.