By Julien Pretot

PARIS (Reuters) - Five-times champion Rafa Nadal sparked off his 25th birthday celebrations on Friday by blowing Andy Murray off court with a 6-4 7-5 6-4 win to set up a French Open final against old foe Roger Federer.

He now faces a much-awaited showdown with Federer, who snapped Novak Djokovic's 41-match winning streak this year with a 7-6 6-3 3-6 7-6 win.

"I'm happy to be back here," Nadal said at courtside after throwing his bandana into the crowd.

"Andy is a fantastic player, he deserves to win a grand slam very, very soon.

"I played well in the important moments. I was always in front; he never was a break up. He had good chances," he added in a news conference.

"I have a lot of respect for the great Borg. But for me the most important thing is to win Roland Garros, not equaling Borg's record."

Nadal, beaten by Djokovic in their previous four encounters, was handed a fine birthday present by Federer when the Swiss beat the world number two.

"It's a good present because he (Nadal) had been struggling against him lately," said Federer.

Nadal was often at his brilliant best on Court Philippe Chatrier.

His superb court coverage, vicious forehands and crosscourt backhands were too much for Murray, who was bidding to become the first British man to reach the final at Roland Garros since Bunny Austin in 1937.

Nadal, who now has a 44-1 record at the French Open, teased Murray by handing him a few openings but that was as good as it got for the fourth seed because almost every time he earned a break point, Nadal slammed the door shut with another fizzing winner.


"I had a lot of break opportunities but he played them well. He was able to dictate the points with his forehand," a dejected Murray, who twisted his ankle in the third round here, told a news conference.

"I think I'm much better on clay than I was last year."

Nadal converted six of his 13 points while Murray managed only three from 18 chances.

Nadal broke in the third game with a forehand winner down the line.

Murray, however, set up three break points in the following game but could only watch as Nadal used his sliced, left-handed serve to save them.

Nadal punished the Scot with his trademark crosscourt forehand winners to move 5-1 up as he gradually found his rhythm.

Murray, who showed his class with a few exquisite drop shots and delicate lobs, would not give up without a fight and he pulled back a break for 5-3 when Nadal netted a routine forehand.

Following an argument with the umpire over a line call, Nadal appeared to lose his focus and he allowed Murray to earn a break point. But the Spaniard pushed his opponent to the limit and pocketed the set when the Scot netted.

The players traded breaks midway through the second set.

The 11th game became a battle of wills in sinew-stretching rallies, with both men determined to gain the upper hand.

In the end it was the claycourt master who came out on top with yet another crosscourt forehand to seal a decisive break for 6-5.

He comfortably held to love to go two sets up as Murray piled up unforced errors.

(Editing by Pritha Sarkar and Clare Fallon)