On the clay of Roland Garros, Roger Federer suffered his sole Grand Slam loss of the year, a straight-set defeat at the hands of Gustavo Kuerten in the round of 32.
Other than that upset, mistakes have been few and far between for the top-ranked men's player in the game's greatest forums. Federer has dropped just seven sets in 23 matches in the four majors, discounting the three sets lost to Kuerten.
But the man who stands in the way of Federer's third Slam victory of the year, Lleyton Hewitt, has been one of his toughest opponents thus far, taking two of those seven lost sets.
With Federer's 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 dismantling of Britain's Tim Henman and Hewitt's 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 takedown of Swedish surprise Joachim Johansson on Saturday afternoon, the players set up a rematch of the contest that has taken Hewitt out of two of the three majors so far this year.
"Right now I have a very solid base, you know," said Federer, the tournament's top seed. "I feel very confident on the court. It's important that every day I wake up, I'm 100 percent, you know, into tennis and ready to go."
While Federer could be the first man since 1988 to take three Slams in one year, the fourth-seeded Hewitt might just be the hottest player in the U.S. Open. Leading up to the Open, Hewitt played in three straight tournament finals -- losing to Andre Agassi in the final in Cincinnati, then flying through the fields in Washington and on Long Island. And he still hasn't lost a set here.
"I feel good at the moment," Hewitt said. "I haven't spent a lot of energy out there."
To get to Sunday's final, Federer had to get through Henman, the fifth seed who had reached the U.S. Open semifinals for the first time in his career.
As the underdog, Henman clearly had the support of the afternoon crowd, who were vocal in their approval when he made a last, valiant effort in the third set. Henman, down two breaks, saved his opponent's first match point and broke back with a forehand just past the reach of the lunging Federer.
But, in the end, Federer played too well and too confidently, negating Henman's numerous net approaches with strong passing shots that resulted in 31 winners and just 15 unforced errors.
"Tim, he hit some great shots today," Federer said. "I think we had some great points, actually, all in all. It's always this way, you know, when somebody is at the net, and you keep on passing, you always come up with some reflex and some nice points."
Hewitt's ability to run down every groundstroke offered up by Johansson proved to be the difference in his semifinal match.
With Jaslyn Hewitt, Lleyton's sister and Johansson's girlfriend, looking on, Hewitt prevailed in a relatively easy three sets to take his 16th straight victory. In a match that contrasted strongly with Johansson's five-set upset of Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals, the players battled through rallies the likes of which weren't seen on Thursday.
"He gets a lot of balls back," Johansson said. "I'm used to that when I've been practicing with him. But I think today he got it back very low, so it was tough for me to hit winners from that position."
Hewitt and Johansson combined for just 26 aces, far fewer than the 64 that Roddick and Johansson smoked in their matchup.
But the close ties between the two players didn't make it easy for them, especially with the match on one of tennis's biggest stages.
"It's awkward," Hewitt said. "Obviously I know his game, but he knows mine as well."
While he has compiled an impressive set of scores in Flushing Meadows, Hewitt hasn't had the most difficult road to the title match. The Australian has faced just two seeded players, the higher of which was No. 28 Johansson.
"Obviously, playing Roger, number one player in the world, I'm going to have to play some great tennis to get on top of him," Hewitt said. "But I feel like I'm playing well at the moment and I give myself a good chance."
But Henman isn't quite so sure.
"[Federer's] playing absolutely phenomenal tennis," Henman said. "You know, he's certainly shown again, and I feel fairly confident he'll show again [Sunday], why he's the number one right now."