French Open title favourite Roger Federer is receiving overwhelming support both on and off the court as he moves a step closer to greatness.
The Swiss star reached his 20th consecutive grand-slam semi-final with a convincing 7-6 (8/6) 6-2 6-4 victory over France’s Gael Monfils today.
Federer, the second seed, is bidding to win his first Roland Garros title, which would make him the sixth man to clinch the haul of all four Majors.
He will never have a better chance – leading rivals Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have all been dumped out of the tournament – and the pressure on the popular 27-year-old is immense.
He admits the nerves are jangling as he closes in on a fourth consecutive appearance in the final here, and he has been left shocked at the backing he is getting.
“I have felt it for a few years now, to be honest, but this year is even more extreme,” said Federer, who will equal Pete Sampras’ record of 14 grand slams if he claims the title.
“When I walk on the streets or get driven around or go for dinner, everybody is like, ’This is your year. You’ve got to do it!’ They are screaming from their scooters and out of the car.
“They even get out at the red lights and want me to sign an autograph or take a picture. It’s quite incredible this last couple of weeks. It’s great to get the support.”
Federer needed to come from two sets down to defeat Tommy Haas in the fourth round but he was more like his usual self as he ultimately eased past a rather subdued Monfils.
His forehand was back working, his error count was lower and he was much more consistent.
He was given a decent workout by the Frenchman in the first set, which Federer claimed after saving a set point in the tie-break.
But he cruised through a 28-minute second set and grabbed a single break in the third to sweep to victory.
“It was important to get off to a better start today, and thank God I got the first set,” Federer said.
“For the first time, I could play a bit more relaxed. I think it showed today. I was able to hit through the ball more. Everything just started to click.”
Federer admitted his pre-match nerves disappeared once he strode onto Philippe Chatrier court.
He said: “We’re all nervous at this stage – I felt it yesterday and I felt it again today in the warm-up. I was tired, I was nervous and I didn’t really feel good.
“The whole story of Nadal losing, Murray losing, Djokovic losing, the draw opening up a little bit; it obviously plays with your mind.
“But it doesn’t matter if I’m zero nervous or 100% nervous. I know I’ll always play a decent match in the quarter-finals of a grand slam.”
Monfils lost to the Swiss for the second successive year here – in 2008, he was eliminated in the semi-finals.
“I’ve played him twice now at more or less the same level, and I think the difference is the fact his game is a real pain in the backside to me. More than any other player,” said the 11th seed, who had been France’s last hope of success.
Monfils felt the match was played out in a strange atmosphere, adding: “The French public really respect Roger, so it’s difficult for them.
“To start with, they had mixed feelings. People want Roger to win for the first time here so getting the support of the crowd is more difficult.”
Federer will play fifth seed Juan Martin del Potro in the last four, the Argentinian brushing aside 16th seed Tommy Robredo 6-3 6-4 6-2.
Federer has never lost to Del Potro in five matches.
“I have a good record against him but it doesn’t mean a thing right now because it’s too much of a big match, he’s too dangerous.
He’s playing too well to underestimate him,” the Swiss said.
Del Potro, 20, will make his first appearance in a grand-slam semi-final.
“If I can’t win this tournament, I want to see Roger with the trophy on Sunday,” he said.