PARIS — Sentimental favorite Roger Federer did not follow the script Friday at the French Open. He decided to go for high drama.
Striving to complete a career Grand Slam, Federer came from behind twice in the semifinals to beat big-serving Juan Martin del Potro 3-6, 7-6 (7-2), 2-6, 6-1, 6-4.
"It feels great coming through tough matches like this," Federer said. "It's more emotional. It's more satisfaction."
Playing in his fourth consecutive Roland Garros final, Federer goes for his 14th major title to match Pete Sampras' record.
"There's still one more step," Federer said.
His opponent Sunday is Robin Soderling, better-known in this tournament as the guy who ousted four-time defending champ Rafael Nadal. The 23rd-seeded Swede extended his improbable Roland Garros run by beating No. 12 Fernando Gonzalez in another seesaw semifinal 6-3, 7-5, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4.
With nemesis Nadal eliminated in the fourth round, second-seeded Federer faces a less daunting path to that elusive championship. He's 9-0 against Soderling.
But then Federer had swept his previous five matches and 12 sets against del Potro. The 6-foot-6 Argentine, seeded fifth, rose to the occasion in his first major semifinal and kept on the offensive for much of the match. But he began to tire in the fourth set. Federer broke for the first time 2½ hours into the match to lead 3-1.
"The longer the match went, I was always confident with my physical abilities and my mental abilities that I was going to be able to turn it around in a tough situation," Federer said.
Del Potro lost his next two service games as well, allowing Federer to sweep seven games in a row and finally take the lead.
By then, Federer was in top form, gliding across the clay that has vexed him in the past. He won a frantic rally and a standing ovation by lunging to slice a forehand into the open court for a 3-1 lead in the fifth set. He had more highlight-reel shots down the stretch, and he closed the victory with forehand winners on back-to-back points.
Soderling is beyond the third round for the first time in 22 career major tournaments. Does he believe he has a chance against Federer?
"He's going to be the favorite, by far," Soderling said. "But I think Nadal was the favorite against me as well."
This is Federer's 19th Grand Slam title match, matching Ivan Lendl's record, and his 15th in the past 16 major tournaments.