Paris:When Roger Federer had completed his latest French Open victory, he permitted himself a moment of jubilation. Then he leaned wearily on the net, shook his head at his good fortune and began to think about the final.
On Sunday, Federer will again try for the only Grand Slam title to elude him, and again the opponent will be his nemesis, Rafael Nadal.
It's the fourth consecutive year the world's best player has faced the world's best clay-court player at Roland Garros, and Federer is 0-3. The defeats have prevented him from becoming the sixth man to win all four Grand Slam events.
He'll try again, while Nadal attempts to become the first player since Bjorn Borg in 1981 to win four consecutive French Opens.
"I will try and face history," Nadal said.
"I've been hoping for this to happen a few weeks and months," Federer said. "I'm where I want to be and I'm playing well, so it's a big, big thrill to play Rafa again in the final here."
Nadal beat Federer in the semifinals in 2005, and in the final each of the past two years. Federer remains optimistic this time will be different.
"I feel better every year," he said. "It's no joke. I really do feel well. I'm fitter than ever, how you want to feel on clay.
"Rafa has been sublime this tournament. He hasn't had any problems whatsoever. It isn't like he has not been improving, so I think it's great what's happening in the game. We have similar guys always at the very top, and we are testing each other over and over again.
"So I think it's very entertaining. Of course I believe. I believe very strongly that this is my year."
In the semifinals, Federer endured some worrisome moments before beating unseeded Frenchman Gael Monfils 6-2, 5-7, 6-3, 7-5. Nadal's semifinal was close only by his standards: He nearly lost a set but beat No. 3-seeded Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (3).
Nadal had lost only three games in each of his previous two matches, and he has won all 18 sets in Paris this year. He graded his latest effort the best yet.
"Almost perfect," he said. "Best match at Roland Garros so far, no?"
Ana Ivanovic, who will climb to No. 1 in the rankings for the first time next week, was to play Dinara Safina in the women's final on Saturday, with each seeking her first Grand Slam championship.
Federer has 12 major titles, two shy of Pete Sampras' record. But like Sampras, Boris Becker, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Stefan Edberg, Federer has been shut out at Roland Garros.
He could blame Nadal. Instead he merely wants to beat him.
"I wanted to be in this position ... that is, Rafa again across the net," Federer said. "I think it's the ultimate test on clay. It would be so much better to win the French Open by beating him."
Nadal is 27-0 at Roland Garros, where he has won 81 of 88 sets _ including all 18 this year.
Federer was glad to play in the second semifinal, because it allowed him to watch Nadal against Djokovic.
"I enjoyed the match," Federer said. "It's easier when you play second, because I could enjoy the entire match watching it. By them playing first I saw everything, and I thought Rafa played fantastic for basically the entire time."
Nadal repeatedly lured Djokovic into long baseline rallies and won most of them, pushing the Serb from corner to corner with his muscular groundstrokes.
"He plays every point like it's a match point," Djokovic said.
With Nadal up two breaks in the third set at 3-0, Djokovic began to hit even harder, and the high-risk tactic worked for a while. Nadal faced a set point serving at 5-6 but saved it with a forehand winner.
The crowd roared in support of Djokovic, hoping for more tennis. But in the tiebreaker Nadal raced to a 6-0 lead. He made several saves in the final rally before leaping to hit an overhead winner, then collapsed to his back in glee.
Federer played aggressively against Monfils, reaching the net on 64 points _ a lot on clay _ and winning 49. The last was a crisp backhand volley to break Monfils in the final game.
Federer pumped his fist, then began to look ahead.
"Honestly, I felt relief," he said. "And then, 5 or 10 seconds later, I started thinking about another final. That's where I want to be. Great satisfaction."