Federer sluggish in rallying to French Open finals


A sluggish Roger Federer overcame a deficit in every set today at the French Open, and now is within one victory of the only Grand Slam title he has yet to win.

The top-ranked Swiss looked lackluster for much of the match but advanced to the final by beating Nikolay Davydenko 7-5, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (7).

"I could have lost in three sets," Federer said. "He's an excellent player. It's a superb win for me before the final."

Federer committed 45 unforced errors but erased 14 break points, and he saved three set points in the final set to reach his eighth consecutive major final, a record.

On Sunday, Federer will play the winner of the second semifinal between two-time defending champion Rafael Nadal and 20-year-old Serb Novak Djokovic.

Federer is bidding to win his fourth consecutive Grand Slam title, something last accomplished by Rod Laver in 1969. Federer seeks his 11th major title, which would tie Laver and Bjorn Borg for third on the career list. He also can complete the career Grand Slam that eluded such champions as Pete Sampras, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg &

none of whom won at Roland Garros.

"I've put myself in position," Federer said. "I just have one match to go. Hopefully I can do it this year."

Only five men have won all four major events.

reaching his eighth Grand Slam final in a row, Federer broke a record originally set by Jack Crawford in 1933-34.

"This shows consistency," the 25-year-old Federer said. "It always used to be the biggest problem of my young career, and now I'm the most consistent player. It's a great feeling being in these big matches over and over. I love it."

Federer has won 27 consecutive Grand Slam matches, two shy of the record Laver set in 1969-70. His last loss in a major event: to Nadal in the French Open final a year ago.

Playing for the women's title Saturday will be three-time champion Justine Henin and 19-year-old Serb Ana Ivanovic, a first-time Grand Slam finalist.

Henin, trying to become the first player since Monica Seles in 1990-92 to win three consecutive French Open titles, watched part of the first men's semifinal. Federer improved to 9-0 against Davydenko but found the three-hour match a struggle from the start.

"When you play well, it's easy," said Federer's father, Robert. "When you're not playing well, those are the big wins, the battles. He battled today. We were nervous. We're not used to these battles so much."

Federer fell behind 2-4, love-40 in the opening set before he rallied, repeatedly erasing break points with big serves and breaking in the final game. When the set ended, Davydenko had converted one of 11 break-point chances, and Federer was 2-for-2.

Davydenko kept Federer pinned behind the baseline, and in each of the next two sets the Russian served for the set &

then failed to close it out.

The most remarkable seesaw sequence came with Davydenko serving at 5-3 in the third set. During the sloppy 20-point game, Federer failed to convert five break-point chances, and Davydenko squandered two set points, sailing a forehand long each time.

Federer finally broke when Davydenko dumped a backhand in the net. That made Federer 4-for-15 converting break-point chances.

Davydenko finished 3-for-17 and committed 53 unforced errors. The Russian held one last set point at 7-6 in the final tie-breaker, but Federer hit a service winner. Two points later, Davydenko chipped a backhand wide to give a visibly relieved Federer the victory.

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