PARIS -- After easing past Tomas Berdych 6-4, 6-3 to reach the final of the Paris Masters for the first time -- at the wise old age of 30 -- Roger Federer acknowledged that the Czech was a bit tired. Berdych had gone more than three hours in his quarterfinal against Andy Murray a day earlier, so Federer wasn't just being polite in his assessment.
But let's not let that detract from a superb Federer performance. The score flattered Berdych.
Federer rolled back the years, with his forehand looking like the one that for so long was the most feared in the men's game. Ironically, it was the much-targeted backhand that produced the shot of the day, as Federer instinctively took a ball early and zinged a cross-court pass past a helpless Berdych in the middle of the second set. The knowledgeable French crowd assembled in southeast Paris gasped.
It was always an uphill climb for last year's Wimbledon finalist, who never led after being broken in the first game. Federer served impeccably, not facing a break point.
On the heels of his title in Basel, Federer will aim for a 10th straight win when he battles local darling Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Tsonga saved three match points in a rather more pulsating affair, a 3-6, 7-6 (1), 7-6 (3) victory over John Isner. Isner sent a second-serve forehand return into the net on one of the match points at 6-5 in the third, although the turning point might have come early in the second. Isner, with Tsonga wobbling, couldn't unleash the killer blow.
Countering what the score would suggest, this wasn't purely a contest of hefty serves. The slower courts this year made for extended rallies, and both took turns executing highlight-reel efforts.
Tsonga thrilled a packed center court -- and smiled wryly -- when, after lobbing the 6-foot-9 Isner, he uncorked a vicious smash from the baseline and, on the full stretch, planted a backhand pass that caught the back of the line.
Isner wasn't far behind, sending a stunning backhand down the line deep in the third. Tsonga could barely believe it.
Federer and Tsonga will each feel they can cap off the regular season with a title in Bercy before making the short trip to London for the World Tour Finals.
Why Federer can win
He's serving great
"That's what's nice when you're serving well. You hit clutch serves, you hit all the corners well, which wasn't the case in Basel," Federer said. "I even had a game where I served three straight double faults. That's not something that's going to happen any time soon again. So I'm very happy with my serve location, with the pace."
He should be fresh
Federer revealed this week that he sustained minor wrist, thigh and ankle injuries, which was the reason he decided to sit out the Asian swing and gear up for Basel, Paris and London.
He has no such health issues now and heads into the finale in great shape; Federer hasn't exceeded the one hour, 25-minute mark in any of his four encounters.
Tsonga, meanwhile, played into the late evening Saturday and went 2:58, giving him far less time to recover.
He thrashed Tsonga in New York
Federer won't be thinking about what happened against Tsonga at Wimbledon and the Canadian Masters. Rather, he'll remember their last meeting at the U.S. Open.
That was a straightforward affair, with Federer prevailing 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. He's 3-2 head-to-head against Tsonga in 2011 and will have the edge playing on a slower hard court.
Why Tsonga can win
He's playing at home
French players either love competing at home or can't handle the pressure. Put Tsonga in the former category. He feeds off the crowd like Gael Monfils does, perhaps even better.
As much of a fan favorite as Federer is, he won't have too many in his corner Sunday. The backing could be enough to overcome a tired body.
"Spending time on the court is always a good thing, also," Tsonga said in his postmatch press conference. "Of course you get tired, but you get to play and you get to get used to the environment."
He's beaten Federer twice this summer
If Federer will reminisce fondly about New York, Tsonga will probably tell himself that a rain delay adversely affected his output then.
He'll ponder with fondness Wimbledon, when he became the first man to rally from two sets down to topple Federer in a Grand Slam. For good measure, Tsonga followed it up with a 6-1 third-set win in Quebec.
He's Mr. Destiny
It's looking like Tsonga's week.
First he benefited from Novak Djokovic's walkover in the quarterfinals. Then he survived those three match points against Isner.
The stars are aligning.