PARIS --- Roger Federer is back in the chase again at the French Open, stretching his record to 98-0 through the first five rounds of the past 20 major tournaments. The Swiss star is just two wins from a career Grand Slam and tying Pete Sampras all-time record of 14 major titles.
Yet reaching the semifinals at all four Grand Slam tournaments in 2008 was considered a down year for Federer -- even if he did get to three finals and win one. And his teary reaction after the loss to Rafael Nadal in this year's Australian Open final made many wonder if his best days were behind him.
"I thought I played great in Australia," Federer said after beating Gael Monfils in straight sets to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam tournament for a record 20th consecutive time. "For some reason, just because I lost in five, people think I played terrible at the Australian Open. It's not the case.
"I played great in Australia and ran into Rafa, who played phenomenal tennis. Unfortunately, I didn't play a great fifth set, but he took advantage and got it."
Federer, who plays Juan Martin del Potro today, won't have to worry about Nadal this year at Roland Garros. The four-time defending champion from Spain lost in the fourth round to big-serving Robin Soderling, who will face Fernando Gonzalez in the other semifinal. Soderling had never before reached the fourth round at a major.
Of the four semifinalists, Fed-erer is only player to have won a Grand Slam title. In fact, he's the only player to have previously appeared in the French Open semifinals, losing to Nadal in that round in 2005 and then falling to him in each of the last three finals.
"At this stage, I expected I would be in semifinals, but I was not expecting Rafa to be out before the semifinals," Federer said. "But once you've reached the semifinals, those four guys have an opportunity to win the tournament."
To reach his fourth consecutive French Open final, Federer will have to beat Del Potro, a promising 20-year-old Argentine he's beaten in all five meetings. Although del Potro obviously wants to win his first Grand Slam title on Sunday, he knows who he'll be cheering for if he loses to Federer.
"Everybody wants Roger to win this tournament," del Potro said. "But if I can't do, if I can't win this tournament, I want to see, next Sunday, Roger with the trophy."