Federer reaches first Paris final

Roger Federer barely sweated as he beat Tomas Berdych 6-4, 6-3 to set up a Paris Masters final against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who had to save three match points in a gritty win against American John Isner on Saturday.

The sixth-seeded Tsonga beat the unseeded Isner 3-6, 7-6 (1), 7-6 (3) in an unpredictable contest lasting nearly three hours, a total contrast to Federer’s breezy one-way victory in 80 minutes.

Federer, the 16-time Grand Slam champion, looked impregnable on his serve and did not face a break point. He broke the fifth-seeded Berdych’s serve at the start of each set to take control.

”I really played great today. I didn’t give Tomas much. I was able to play aggressive and serve good, so overall it was a wonderful performance,” said Federer, who is looking to win the Paris title for the first time. ”I just felt like I was reading his serve, I was playing well from the baseline.”

Berdych, the 2005 champion, appeared nervous and failed to find any rhythm as Federer dictated rallies with his unwavering forehand.

Berdych was so impressed that he felt like he was playing against ”the old Roger” who won 42 titles, including 11 Grand Slams, from 2004-07.

”We can count the unforced errors he made on the fingers of one hand,” Berdych said. ”He played like I remember him (playing) a few years ago. Today was pretty much no chance at all for me.”

Federer agreed that he was close to his best in making his first Paris Masters final.

”I take it as a compliment because the Roger Federer of old, he lost five matches a year and won 90 or 80,” Federer said. ”I think he did really well to hang in there, because I did have more chances than him.”

The Swiss star, who won his home tournament in Basel last week, will try for his 69th title in his 99th final. He has now reached at least the final of all nine Masters events.

Tsonga won his only Masters title in Paris three years ago, and aims for his eighth career title. He almost threw away the semifinal against Isner when, serving at 40-15 up in the 12th game of the third set, he let Isner back in.

”It was a war of nerves. The crowd helped me and it was an advantage playing in France,” Tsonga said. ”When I had match points against me, I said encouraging things to myself, and I managed to save myself.”

Tsonga saved three match points, with Isner helping him with unforced errors from the baseline.

”You come so close to winning, it gets taken away from you. It wasn’t to be,” Isner said. ”He came up with the goods, hats off to him. That’s why he’s one of the best players in the world, he came up big.”

Isner held serve for the entire match, but Tsonga dominated the tiebreakers.

Tsonga won the first tiebreaker 7-1, and the second 7-3, clinching victory on his first match point with a quick forehand pass that flew past Isner, who was hoping to become the first American to win here since Andre Agassi in 1999.

”I’ve showed this tournament that I can play with the best players in the world,” said Isner, who was hoping to reach his first Masters final. ”I just have to be more consistent, improve my backhand.”

Tsonga and Federer are set to meet for the sixth time this year, and first since the U.S. Open quarterfinals when Federer prevailed. Federer leads the matchups 5-3 overall, but two of Tsonga’s wins were this year at Wimbledon and the Rogers Cup.

”I have no particular problem playing against him. I’m not afraid of him,” Federer said. ”I would be afraid of him in the first round, but (not) in the final, when I feel good.”

Tsonga, who beat David Nalbandian of Argentina in the 2008 final, ensured a Frenchman made the final for the fourth consecutive year – with Gael Monfils losing the previous two.

”I already had a difficult (tournament) in 2008,” Tsonga said. ”But if I manage to beat (Federer) in front of my fans, it will be an even bigger win.”