PARIS - Rafael Nadal, the freshly minted 19-year-old from Spain, arrived in the interview room at the French Open sporting uncooperative wet hair, the stray locks almost harder to control than his forehand.
"Hola," he said.
Say hello to the Nadal era.
It's a cliche to say an athlete came of age in a particular match, but, well, Nadal did turn 19 yesterday, the day he reached his first Grand Slam final. And the fourth-seeded Nadal took out the No. 1 player, beating Roger Federer of Switzerland, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, in the semifinals, reducing Federer to a flustered player in search of a forehand.
Federer's usually trustworthy shot seemed almost to vanish from his arsenal. Somehow, it was fitting that the match ended when a Federer forehand floated long about 9:15 in the Paris evening.
Nadal dropped on his back and appeared close to doing a backward somersault, then settled for a clay caking to celebrate his 23-match winning streak.
Federer was gracious in defeat, even stepping back to let Nadal shake the chair umpire's hand first.
The Spanish teen was equally classy. He applauded when Federer left the court and had earlier earned the admiration of the crowd, conceding that one of Federer's serves had been good after it had been called out, causing the point to be replayed.
Federer's forehand was not all that wasn't working. He lost his serve nine times, a career high.
"Simple version for me is, um, started bad and finished bad, basically," said Federer, who had trouble dealing with Nadal's lefty spin.
Said Nadal, "It's incredible to beat Federer. Winning a semifinal is already incredible and beating Federer is even more amazing. I said to him, 'I'm sorry for you.' He said, 'No, no, you played very well.' He said, 'Good luck for the final. Good luck for the future.'"
Nadal has another match in his immediate future, a fact nearly lost amid the hoopla of the marquee semifinal. Awaiting him in the final is another left-hander, unseeded Mariano Puerta of Argentina, who survived a marathon. Puerta defeated No. 12 Nikolay Davydenko of Russia, 6-3, 5-7, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, in 3 hours 29 minutes.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
At Stade Roland Garros
Men's singles Rafael Nadal (4) def. Roger Federer (1), 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. Mariano Puerta def. Nikolay Davydenko (12), 6-3, 5-7, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.