SHANGHAI -- Roger Federer snapped Novak Djokovic's 28-match winning streak in China, beating the World No. 1 6-4, 6-4 in the semifinals to advance to his ATP-leading ninth final of the season at the Shanghai Rolex Masters. Federer, who will move up to No. 2 when the new ATP rankings are released on Monday, will play No. 29 Gilles Simon. Simon defeated Feliciano Lopez 6-2, 7-6 (4) in the first semifinal.
"I think I played very well," Federer said. "There was nothing in the game today that wasn't working ... If things would have gone my way, maybe I could have won the match easier than it actually was."
From Djokovic's perspective, Federer played a near-perfect match to beat him for the third time this season. "[T]onight is definitely one of the best matches he has played against me, that's for sure," Djokovic said.
The stat-sheet backs that up. Djokovic didn't play a bad match so much as Federer played a great one. Serving with precision and hitting the ball clean off the baseline, Federer kept the pressure on Djokovic and never let him get settled. A break of serve early in each set is all Federer needed to relax and hold his serve for the win.
You knew it was Federer's day when he casually held serve in just 47 seconds in a vintage Federer service game late in the first set.
"I think he's playing as good as ever," Djokovic said. "I think age does not really matter in his case."
Federer faced just one break point in the match, which he saved, while earning 10 break point chances on Djokovic's serve. While Djokovic hit 31 winners to 24 unforced errors, Federer did even better, hitting 35 winners to 23 unforced errors. Not wanting to get stuck in long baseline rallies with Djokovic, Federer kept the pressure at the net. He approached 35 times and won 20 points.
"It's very exciting playing this [type of] tennis because I think attacking tennis is the most exciting," Federer said. "When I can do it myself, it's great. Match point showed it all. Two volleys to end the match, it's a great feeling."
It's already been an unlikely week for Federer, who now has a chance to win his second ATP Masters title of the year. He only confirmed his participation in Shanghai just a few weeks before the tournament and was a point away (five times!) from losing his opening round to Leonardo Mayer.
Since saving five match points to beat Mayer he has played himself into form with each match, notching wins over Roberto Bautista Agut, Julien Benneteau, and now Djokovic, against whom he's 3-2 for the season. That great escape, which Federer called his best ever, was still on his mind on Saturday night.
"I was thinking about it midway through the match when I was up a set and a break going, Hmm, should I be here or elsewhere?" he said. "I'm here, let's make the most of it. I still remember how lucky I got. Clearly I feel very fortunate being in the tournament. But that's sometimes how things go. Especially when you're playing well, you're confident, you believe, you're happy. I'm mentally fresh from a vacation."
Federer leads the head-to-head against Simon 4-2 and has not lost to him since 2008. The last time Simon defeated Federer was here in Shanghai at the Masters Cup in 2008. The Frenchman, who will be back in the top 20 on Monday, has turned his disappointing season around over the summer. He made the fourth round at the U.S. Open, losing in five sets to eventual champion Marin Cilic, and made the semifinals of the Japan Open last week.
Playing in just his second ATP Masters 1000 final, Simon has already beaten two top ten players, Stan Wawrinka and Tomas Berdych, this week in Shanghai. "I just know that I can [beat Djokovic and Federer]," the 29-year-old said. "When I'm playing good, I can play at their level. This I'm not worried. The question is whether I will be able to do it tomorrow."
As for Federer, he's full of confidence and knows that Simon's counterpunching baseline game will give him an opportunity to get into rhythm.
"I'm not going to come into the match and play terrible," Federer said, when asked about a possible letdown after such a big win over Djokovic. "It just won't happen, not in the finals, not against Simon. He's going to make me play enough shots to feel good. He's not going to blow me off the court."
The final begins at 4:30 pm local time, 4:30 am ET on Sunday.