PARIS: Roger Federer knows this is his best chance to win the French Open.
So does everyone else. And they all keep telling him - fellow diners at restaurants, passersby on the street, people who hop out of cars at red lights and ask for an autograph.
"Everybody," Federer said, "is like, 'This is your year. You've got to do it.'"
By beating 11th-seeded Gael Monfils of France 7-6 (6), 6-2, 6-4 on Wednesday, Federer moved into the French Open semifinals for the fifth consecutive time. There is one significant difference in 2009: Rafael Nadal is not around to prevent Federer from claiming the only Grand Slam singles title he's never won.
Federer lost to Nadal in the past three French Open finals, and in the semifinals the year before that. Put another way: Since the start of the 2005 French Open, Federer is 0-4 against Nadal at Roland Garros, 28-0 against everyone else.
"Roger is respected," Monfils said. "People want Roger to win for the first time here."
Even other players.
"Everybody wants Roger to win this tournament," said No 5-seeded Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, who eliminated No 16 Tommy Robredo 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in the last quarterfinal. "If I can't win this tournament, I want to see, next Sunday, Roger with the trophy."
There is plenty on the line for Federer over the coming days.
If he can get past del Potro in today's semifinals, then defeat No 12 Fernando Gonzalez or No 23 Robin Soderling - the man who knocked off Nadal - in Sunday's final, it would make Federer only the sixth man in history with a career Grand Slam.
It also would give Federer a 14th major singles title, tying him with Pete Sampras for the most in history.
While the top-seeded Nadal's exit, and those of No 3 Andy Murray and No 4 Novak Djokovic, made Federer's path to the title easier, the pressure to finally win at Roland Garros has increased, too.
The second-seeded Federer thought about that before facing Monfils.
"It's also one of the reasons why I was nervous going into this match, because the whole stories of Nadal losing, Murray losing, Djokovic losing, maybe opening up the draw a little bit - obviously, they also play with my mind," Federer said.
Perhaps. But after three consecutive so-so performances, Federer was challenged only fleetingly by Monfils en route to reaching the semifinals at a 20th consecutive Grand Slam tournament, extending his record.
Federer faced two break points in the opening game of the match, and another at 5-5 in the first set - but saved each of them.
Then, in the tiebreaker, Monfils held a set point at 6-5, but again Federer held steady, and the Frenchman sent a backhand wide to make it 6-all. Two points later - a service winner and a volley winner by Federer - the set was over, and so, essentially, was the match.
"Everything just started to click," Federer said.
He was extended to four sets in both the second and third rounds, then needed to overcome a two-set deficit before beating Tommy Haas in the fourth round.
"Today is the first match the score wasn't close," said Federer, who won 18 of the last 19 points on his serve against Monfils.
"He didn't miss a lot," the Frenchman said.
When Federer smacked one last backhand winner down the line to finish off his victory over Monfils, the two men met at the net.
Can you guess what Monfils told Federer?
"I said, 'That was excellent. All the best to you,'" Monfils recounted. "'I hope that this time you win the tournament.'"