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Federer against Nadal in Paris

A surprise at French Open this year is the straight five rounds win by the four top-seeded men, to reach the semis.

india Updated: Jun 08, 2006 18:14 IST

The biggest surprise at the French Open has been the lack of surprises. The four top-seeded men steered clear of upsets for five rounds to reach the semifinals, the first time that's happened at Roland Garros since 1985.

And if the favorites win again on Friday, tennis will be rewarded with a Sunday showdown that shapes up as the match of the year - top-ranked Roger Federer against defending champion Rafael Nadal.

"Look, I think we all would love to see me playing Rafael in the final, except two other players," Federer said. "They stand in our way."

Ivan Ljubicic, the burly, late-blooming Croat, and David Nalbandian, the equally muscular Argentine playing in his fourth Grand Slam semifinal.

Federer faces the third seeded Nalbandian on Friday, and No.2 Nadal plays fourth seeded Ljubicic. It's the first time the men's semifinals have featured players seeded one through four since John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Mats Wilander made it 21 years ago.

The fourth-seeded Wilander won the title that year, which might be a good omen for Ljubicic. But he'll be a substantial underdog against Nadal, who is 12-0 at Roland Garros and unbeaten anywhere on clay since April 2005, when his Open-era record streak of 58 consecutive victories on the surface began.

"I'm not impressed with that streak," Ljubicic said. "I mean, it's fantastic results. But he was close to losing matches so many times that it has to happen one day. And I do believe that I can beat him."

But Ljubicic will be playing in his first Grand Slam semifinal at age 27, and Nalbandian looms as the more likely spoiler. He has a 7-6 record against Federer, including 2-2 in major events, and pushed the world's best player to a tiebreaker in a winner-take-all fifth set in Rome last month before losing.

The stakes for Federer are considerable: He's two wins from becoming the third man to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time, joining Don Budge and Rod Laver.

The French Open is the only major event Federer has yet to win, and he could become the sixth man to achieve a career Slam by winning all four majors. Andre Agassi did it most recently when he won at Roland Garros seven years ago.

In short, a Federer championship would strengthen the case for those who already argue that the seven-time Grand Slam winner is the greatest player of all time.

At 24, he's well aware that the list of top players who never won the French Open is long. It includes the likes of McEnroe, Connors, Pete Sampras and Boris Becker.