Paris – Spain's Rafael Nadal overcame windy conditions to defeat Scotland's Andy Murray 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 Friday and advance to the French Open final against Roger Federer, who ended Novak Djokovic's 43-match winning streak just before nightfall.
Nadal, who took the victory in three hours and 17 minutes, will be looking to tie Swedish great Bjorn Borg's record of six French Open titles when he takes the court on Sunday against his arch-rival.
In Friday's first men's semifinal, Murray - who was battling an ankle injury suffered earlier in the tournament - employed a strategy aimed at forcing Nadal off the baseline with drop shots to avoid the long baseline rallies that are the Spaniard's forte.
He used the tactic numerous times when he was against the wind and did so effectively, but Nadal rose to the occasion when in trouble to save all but three of the 18 break points he faced.
One of those big points came late in the first set after Nadal had squandered a 5-1 lead and was serving at 5-4.
Down a break point, the world No. 1 opted for a wide serve and then followed it into the net and placed the volley into the open court for a winner. The Spaniard then took the first set a few points later.
In the second set, Murray took a 5-4 lead after each player broke serve twice, but it was at that juncture that Nadal took full control of the match by rattling off five straight games to go up two sets to love and 2-0 in the third set.
Murray stayed close and held three break points with Nadal serving at 4-3, but again the Spaniard came up with the goods under pressure - including a deft drop shot - to keep his advantage.
He then clinched the match two games later when Murray dumped a final ball into the net.
With his second-straight strong performance, Nadal, who freely admitted his level in the first few rounds was not good enough to win the tournament, said he feels better about his chances after his victories over Murray and Sweden's Robin Soderling on Wednesday.
"Doubts are part of life and so they're part of sport too. We all have them, but now compared to a week ago it's totally different," Nadal said in the post-match interview.
The Spaniard's crisis of confidence was triggered by nearly losing a close five-set match in the first round against big-serving American John Isner and playing well below his best in victories in the second and fourth rounds.
"What's never changed is my desire to play tennis and to be in the top spots of the rankings and to win these types of matches."
Nadal's opponent in the finals, Federer, scored one of his more satisfying victories of his illustrious career in the second semifinal to finally hand Djokovic a loss in 2011.
The Serb world No. 2, who would have taken over the top spot by reaching the final, had won seven titles and 41-straight matches to start the year (43 matches total dating back to late last year), including the Australian Open and four ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events.
He had defeated Federer and Nadal seven times during the streak, including stunning straight-set wins over the Spaniard on his favored clay surface in Madrid and Rome.
But just as the tennis world was anticipating a Nadal-Djokovic showdown, the 29-year-old Federer, who holds a record 16 Grand Slam singles titles, proved that his career is far from finished by taking Friday's late match 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5).
After the match, the Swiss great praised Djokovic's streak as "incredible" and joked that he may have given Nadal - who turned 25 on Friday - a birthday gift.
"Isn't it his birthday today? Maybe it's a good birthday present for him that I beat Novak," the Swiss said, referring to the Serb's recent victories over the Spaniard and also the No. 1 ranking, which will remain in Nadal's hands for the time being if he wins the title.
Nadal holds a 16-8 edge in his head-to-head matchup with Federer and a 11-2 career advantage on clay.
Nadal has defeated Federer en route to four of his French Open titles - in the 2005 semifinals and the 2006, 2007 and 2008 finals. He also won last year's event.
The Swiss, meanwhile, captured his lone Roland Garros title in 2009 after the Spaniard was stunned in the fourth round by Soderling.