By Mark Meadows
PARIS (Reuters) - Roger Federer stunned Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal beat Andy Murray as the four musketeers put on swashbuckling displays on Friday, with a classic duel still to come in Sunday's French Open final.
Five-times winner Nadal will take on old nemesis and 16-times grand slam champion Federer after the Swiss pulled off a 7-6 6-3 3-6 7-6 win over Djokovic to inflict the Serbian's first loss in 42 matches and stop him becoming world number one.
That honor will stay with Spanish birthday boy Nadal, who swished and swaggered his way into the final with a 6-4 7-5 6-4 victory over fourth seed Murray on a windy but sunny Court Philippe Chatrier.
"Always in these kind of matches, it is small things but I started playing the match fantastically," Nadal told reporters.
The Briton went down fighting, showing the same tenacious spirit which has carried him through a sprained ankle and some tough matches in the Roland Garros fortnight.
In the end, Nadal, who has lost only once on the Paris clay in singles, was just too good but the high quality of tennis in both semi-finals showed the men's game is in the rudest health it has ever been, in contrast to the women's.
China's Li Na faces defending champion Francesca Schiavone in Saturday's women's final but the duo will have to go some way to match the gripping drama that the men provided on Friday.
It was not long before third seed Federer and second seed Djokovic were unleashing stunning winners and duelling in extraordinary rallies.
"The first set was awesome and we were a bit tired for the second and third set," Federer said after reaching his first grand slam final in more than a year as dusk almost descended.
"It will be a very difficult final."
Two breaks of serve each in the first set led to a tight tiebreak which the 2009 winner edged 7-5 when his rival, who had not played since Sunday, netted.
With the noisy crowd firmly behind Federer, Djokovic bounced his racket off the ground before the Swiss won the second set after surging 3-1 up when a net cord went his way.
Australian Open champion Djokovic was not going to give up lightly and he roared back in the third set, breaking early and putting an extra flourish into his forehand to hit back.
"I think I had a good first set and I was really unfortunate to lose that set," Djokovic told a news conference. "I think I played well. I congratulate him for a great performance. We were part of a really good match."
As women in the packed stands fanned their faces in the heat and superb rallies went on and on, Scot Murray brought the score back to 5-3 but he missed two more break points as Nadal closed out the first set.
Nadal used his trademark open-bodied crosscourt forehand to huge effect, somehow finding a split second to come all the way round the ball in the high-powered encounter while Murray used his quickening serve, drop shots and slices exquisitely.
"It's been by far the best claycourt season for me in terms of the way I've actually played on this surface," Murray said.
"I've had decent results before, but I feel like I played a lot better."
All the pair had in common in the third set was their blue shirts as Nadal ended Murray's hopes of becoming the first British man in a Roland Garros final since Bunny Austin in 1937.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)