PARIS (Reuters) - Roger Federer’s pursuit of an elusive French Open crown gathered momentum on Wednesday while Dinara Safina again tottered on the brink of elimination before salvaging her title dreams to reach the semi-finals.
As Safina booked an all-Russian last-four date with fourth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, Federer overcame a slight hiccup to record a 2-6 6-2 6-3 6-4 win over Chilean Fernando Gonzalez.
“To make four (semis) in a row (here) is a great accomplishment, but this year I’m obviously aiming for the title so I hope it’s not going to stop here,” said Federer, who is eyeing a third straight final with champion Rafael Nadal.
Next up for world number one Federer will be local favourite Gael Monfils, who became the first Frenchman to reach the last four since Sebastien Grosjean in 2001 with a 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-1 win over Spanish fifth see David Ferrer.
Safina reached the last four of a major for the first time with a 4-6 7-6 6-0 win over fellow Russian Elena Dementieva, while Kuznetsova overcame Estonian Kaia Kanepi 7-5 6-2.
Doing things the easy way is not a mantra known to Safina and for the second match in succession, the Russian produced a stirring comeback from a set and 5-2 down, saved a match point and then took pleasure in trampling all over her hapless victim.
“It’s not easy to come back every time because once it’s going to be too late,” a grinning Safina told reporters.
“(But) Impossible is nothing,” she added, adopting the slogan of a famous clothing sponsor.
Kuznetsova managed to avoid any high drama. Kanepi opted to contest her first grand slam quarter-final wearing sunglasses but it was not long before she was dazzled by the Russian’s charge towards victory.
Kuznetsova’s win over Kanepi guaranteed for the second grand slam running, Russia and Serbia will do battle for the honours.
With Ana Ivanovic contesting the other semi-final against fellow Serb Jelena Jankovic, both Eastern European nations will be represented in the women’s showpiece match on Saturday.
In January Russian Maria Sharapova had overwhelmed Ivanovic in the Australian Open final.
Safina, the conqueror of Sharapova in the previous round, looked to have one foot on the plane back home to Moscow on Wednesday before she suddenly came to life.
Dementieva served for the match at 5-2 up in the second set, but a combination of her fragile serve and a rash of blistering winners flying from her opponent’s racket saw her get broken.
In the next game, seventh seed Dementieva seemed to have earned her ‘get out of jail free card’ when Safina served up a double fault to hand the 2004-runner-up a match point.
But just as she did against Sharapova, Safina took the moment in her stride, narrowed her eyes and slammed the door shut by unleashing a ferocious winner.
As the contest wore on, it seemed as if Safina had hit the replay button on the Sharapova match from two days ago and true to form, it was not long before her temper boiled over.
The racket went flying, she turned up the decibel levels on her mutterings and at 5-5 in the second set, the red geraniums planted courtside faced the full force of her anger.
She whacked the potted display with her racket, resulting in a flurry of petals to fall on to the ground, but the episode proved to have the desired effect.
After sealing the tiebreak 7-5, she ran amok in the third to leave a crestfallen Dementieva to wonder what might have been.
“I think she played quite well today,” deduced Dementieva.
The success also earned Safina the distinction of becoming the first woman in a grand slam to have come from match point down in successive matches -- winning both.
If Safina is one to believe in omens, she would do well to read up on her brother Marat’s run to the Australian Open title.
Three years ago Safin had saved a match point in the semis against Federer and had gone on to lift the Norman Brookes Cup.
On Wednesday, Federer extended his unique record of reaching 16 successive grand slam semis by handing Gonzalez his first claycourt defeat in 2008.
After appearing to move in slow motion in the opening set, Federer put on his skates to whizz past the Chilean dasher.
The Swiss brought up match point with a smash and a net-charging Federer ended proceedings with a forehand winner.
Editing by Justin Palmer and Padraic Halpin
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