He's still got it.
In a French Open thriller finished in the waning moments of daylight, Roger Federer defeated Novak Djokovic, 7-6, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6, to snap Djokovic's 43-match winning streak and end the Serb's bid to become the top-ranked player in the world. Federer advanced to his five French Open final with the win. There, he'll face the man who's beaten him in his three finals losses, Rafael Nadal.
The final minutes of the match were played in near-darkness, with Federer trying to finish off Djokovic to end the match and Djokovic desperately trying to extend it to a fifth set that would have been played Saturday afternoon in Paris. With the sun slipping behind Court Philippe Chatrier and the looming prospect of a continuation the next day, Federer broke to an early lead in the fourth-set tiebreak and won with an ace on his third match point.
It was the end of a spectacular afternoon of tennis, perhaps the best match to be played since Federer and Nadal's epic at Wimbledon in 2008. The quality of play in the first and fourth sets were as good as it gets, with the men who have combined for 19 Grand Slams trading punishing groundstrokes during exhausting rallies.
For a man with 16 career Grand Slams, this victory may have been one of his sweetest. Treated as an afterthought by a press who thought the Djokovic-Nadal final was an inevitability, Federer, at 29, showed he still has some life left in his racquet. In the first two sets he was hitting wicked backhands that were vintage Federer. In the fourth set, he served as well as he has in years.
For a time, Federer looked like the player who was five years younger and coming off a four-day break. When he won a tight first-set tiebreak, it sent Djokovic into a fit of malaise. His shoulders were slumped, he barely ran out points. He was acting like a teenager who didn't get the car for the weekend.
That funk lasted through the second set. When the third began, Djokovic showed why he's gone six months without losing. A quick break of Federer put him up early in the set and he forced a fourth with play that made you think, "he couldn't ... could he?"
One thing was for certain: A great streak was bound to end. Federer was 174-0 after winning the first two sets of a Grand Slam match. Djokovic, of course, was 43-0 since December.
In the finals, Federer will be a decided underdog (again) to Nadal, who cruised in three sets earlier in the day against Andy Murray. If Federer were to win, it would be one of the sweetest victories of his career. Even if he loses, the win over Djokovic doesn't become any less sweet.