Roger Federer improved to 18-16 against Novak Djokovic. (Julian Finney/Getty Images)
No. 4 Roger Federer ousted defending champion Novak Djokovic 7-5, 6-2 on Saturday to advance to his first final at the Monte Carlo Masters since 2008.
Federer, who accepted a last-minute wild card into the first clay-court ATP Masters 1000 tournament of the season, took control after saving two set points at 4-5 in the first set. He broke in the next game before serving out the set. Backed by a solid serve and sustained aggression, he ran away with the second set, ultimately needing just 74 minutes to reach his fourth final of the season and improve to 2-1 against the second-ranked Djokovic this year.
"I'm very happy with the way I played," Federer said. "I tried to stay aggressive, like I have all week."
Federer will play his Davis Cup teammate and world No. 3 Stanislas Wawrinka, who defeated David Ferrer 6-1, 7-6 (3), in Sunday's final. It's the first all-Swiss ATP final since 2000, when Marc Rosset beat Federer in Marseille. If Federer wins, he would move up to No. 3 in Monday's rankings and replace Wawrinka as the No. 1 Swiss.
Djokovic took the court with his right wrist and forearm heavily taped for the first time in the tournament. The Serb had refused to discuss the extent of the wrist injury this week, especially after breezing through his first two rounds. But the pain got worse after his three-set win over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the quarterfinals on Friday.
"It's unfortunate that when you're playing at this level against Roger, big tournament, that you are not able to play your game because something else is taking away all your energy and effort,'' Djokovic said. ''This injury has been present for last 10 days, and I tried not to think or talk about it. I did everything I could really, I was on the medications every day, I was doing different therapies, injections."
Djokovic does not believe he needs surgery but will take some time off to get a diagnosis and heal. He blamed the injury on training too hard after Indian Wells and Miami to prepare for the clay season.
"I cannot play tennis for some time," he said. "How long, I don't know. It's really not in my hands anymore. I'm going to rest and see when it can heal 100 percent, then I will be back on the court.''
Djokovic's next scheduled tournament is the Madrid Open, which begins on May 2.
Game-by-game analysis of the match below:
10:53 a.m. ET | Roger Federer defeats Novak Djokovic 7-5, 6-2 to advance to the Monte Carlo Masters final.
Blink and you missed that second set. Federer closes it out with no drama, and he's into his second Masters final of the season with a chance to win his first Monte Carlo title. He'll play Davis Cup teammate Wawrinka, and the winner will be the No. 1 Swiss on Monday. We've been waiting for this match all season. Wawrinka looked great against Ferrer. No doubt this will be a must-see match.
Federer snapped Djokovic's 13-match winning streak and spoiled the Serb's chance to win his fifth consecutive Masters 1000 title.
Final match stats. (Screengrab via TennisTV)
There's no surprise that the match stats reflect Federer's aggression, as he out-served and outhit Djokovic today. But seeing Federer get the better of the Serb in the long rallies is definitely surprising, especially on clay. That should be Djokovic's bread and butter.
10:50 a.m. ET | Federer holds, leads *5-2.
"This match is over," says Justin Gimelstob on Tennis Channel, as Federer holds to 5-1. Pretty good analysis there.
Agree with Bryant on this. Fans tend to get up in arms when injuries are mentioned, especially when players refuse to discuss them. Yes, if you take the court, you're fit enough to play, but that doesn't mean you're fit enough to win. If you're not 100 percent, that affects how well you can execute. That's just a fact. Federer has played extremely well today. That doesn't mean that Djokovic isn't injured.
Monte Carlo is just one of two Masters titles Federer has never won. (Julian Finney/Getty Images)
10:45 a.m. ET | Federer breaks, leads *4-1.
Djokovic gives up another break; he just can't get back into this match and it's slipping away quickly. He's either guiding the ball or making kamikaze net rushes that open up easy passes for Federer.
If he goes on to lose, he'll drop to 0-3 this season when Boris Becker is in his box. Just throwing that out there.
10:39 a.m. ET | Federer breaks, leads *2-1.
Djokovic starts with a love hold, but he's broken in his second service game, as Federer sticks a fantastic backhand winner -- his first of the match -- down the line and into the corner. Djokovic doesn't have good body language; he continues to wince and looks mentally discouraged.
Novak Djokovic struggled to raise his level to meet Federer's aggressive play. (Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Needless to say, this is a huge opportunity for Federer, a late wild-card entry, to win his first Monte Carlo title. If he holds on, he'll play his countryman Stanislas Wawrinka in their first match of the season. Wawrinka may be the No. 1 Swiss, but Federer leads the head-to-head 13-1. Wawrinka's only victory came in Monte Carlo in 2009.
10:30 a.m. ET | Federer wins the first set 7-5.
Boom. With an ace, Federer serves out the set with minimal drama. That set wasn't decided by much, but Federer's serve has really come through for him. He's serving at 69 percent and winning 84 percent of those points (21 for 25), while Djokovic is serving at 60 percent and winning 56 percent of the points (though he's winning a whopping 73 percent of his second serves).
First set stats. (Screengrab from TennisTV)
Federer had just 11 winners in the set, but the amount of offensive pressure he consistently put on Djokovic made it feel like more. One surprising stat: Federer is winning more of the long rallies. On points that last more than five shots, Federer has won seven while Djokovic has won four.
Final stat note: Zero backhand winners from Novak?
10:25 a.m. ET | Federer holds and breaks, leads *6-5.
Save break points, earn break points in the next game -- how often do we see that in tennis? Djokovic earns two break points, which happen to be set points, at 15-40. Federer saves both with attacking play, forcing Djokovic on defense and daring him to come up with the passing shot. The Serb can't and it's deuce.
The two play the point of the match at deuce, with Federer showing great depth to get Djokovic on defense, and then winning the point at the net with some good anticipation. He liked that one so much that he shoots Djokovic a glare after the win:
Roger Federer struts after a vintage Federer point. (Screengrab from TennisTV)
He escapes with the hold after saving two set points.
The tug-of-war continues in the next game, and Federer earns the break. Djokovic goes from 40-0 to being broken. It's an odd service game from Djokovic, who seems out of balance during most of the game. Federer takes advantage. He's still attacking and forcing Djokovic to pass him and Djokovic hasn't been able to do it today. The Swiss is 10-for-10 at the net.
10:13 a.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 5-4*.
Another easy hold for Federer to pull even at 4-all. I'm waiting for him to make his move and try to get the break in this upcoming ninth game.
Sure enough, he earns a quick 0-30 lead, and Djokovic winces and shakes out that right wrist after a bad backhand into the net. Federer earns the first break point of the match at 30-40 when Djokovic sends a forehand just long. He gets a second serve to attack and runs around it to snap a good inside-out forehand. But Djokovic is there and redirects the backhand down the line and Federer hits his reply long.
If you're keeping track of Federer's break point conversion rate today, he's 0-for-1. But fear not -- he needed only 16 break points yesterday against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga before he finally converted one, in the third set.
Djokovic escapes with the hold. That break point illustrates the matchup issues Djokovic poses for Federer. The Swiss made the right play and struck the right shot, hitting a great angle to Djokovic's backhand corner, but the Serb's speed, flexibility and strength allowed him to turn defense into offense to win the point.
10:05 a.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 4-3*.
The two trade fairly easy holds. There's not much separating these two so far, though Federer is winning 83 percent of his first serves.
9:58 a.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 3-2*.
Federer comes out of the changeover with a love hold and then gets to 30-all on Djokovic's serve. But Djokovic wins the next two points to hold.
Federer actually called for a challenge on the last point of that game. Come on, Roger. You know there's no Hawk-Eye on clay. But chair umpire Carlos Bernardes comes down to look a the mark and, much to Federer's chagrin, tells him Djokovic's ball landed in.
Roger Federer's clay challenges are about as good as his Hawk-Eye challenges. (Screengrab from TennisTV)
9:52 a.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 2-1*.
Djokovic has come out with some heavy taping on his right wrist/forearm. He hasn't provided much detail so we don't know a lot about the severity, but it hasn't affected him too much this week.
Novak Djokovic's heavy tape job hasn't hindered him so far. (Screengrab from TennisTV)
He needed only 92 minutes to get through his first two matches, losing just two games, and then overcame Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 in the quarterfinals. But it's an injury to keep an eye on as the clay season rolls on. Unlike hard courts or grass, Djokovic is going to have hit a lot of balls on this surface, which could have a cumulative effect.
He serves to start the match and holds easily at 15.
Djokovic gets to deuce on Federer's first service game. Federer double-faults on game point but wins the next two points with some nice one-two plays, punctuated by two forehand drive volleys.
On Djokovic's second service game, Federer brings out the flair with a beautiful forehand drop shot to get to 40-30, but Djokovic closes out the game easily.
No. 4 Roger Federer will meet No. 2 Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the Monte Carlo Masters on Saturday. The winner will face Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka in the final, who beat David Ferrer 6-1, 7-6 (3) in the first semifinal. The match is scheduled to begin no earlier than 9 a.m. ET.
Federer has never won the Monte Carlo title and is in his first semifinal of the Masters 1000 tournament since 2008; he didn't play in 2010, '12 or '13. The 32-year-old Swiss was two points from losing to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals on Friday but came back to win 2-6, 7-6 (6), 6-1 despite failing to convert his first 15 break points. That was Federer's 950th victory -- third most in the Open era, behind Jimmy Connors (1,253) and Ivan Lendl (1,071).
Djokovic, the defending champion, also had to rally in his quarterfinal, surging past Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 4-6, 6-3, 6-1. The 26-year-old Serb has won 13 consecutive matches. He's two victories from winning his fifth Masters 1000 title in a row.
Federer and Djokovic have split two meetings this year, with the former winning in the semifinals of the Dubai Championships and the latter winning in the final of the BNP Paribas Open. This is their first match on clay since the 2012 French Open. Federer leads the overall head-to-head 17-16 and they're 3-3 on clay.