Last French hope faces up to King Fed

French player Gael Monfils is playing against Roger Federer in the Roland Garros semi-final on Friday (GETTY IMAGES)

France's Gael Monfils will start against Roger Federer as a huge underdog today, but the Swiss maestro says he is wary and will not underestimate his unseeded opponent.

"He's French and he's very fit at the moment," said the world No1.

It's not often that Roger Federer has to accept a supporting act role in Grand Slam tennis, but that was the case in Wednesday's French Open quarter-finals.

He was "demoted" to the Suzanne Lenglen showcourt No2 at Roland Garros to allow the sole remaining home hope Monfils to top the billing on the Philippe Chatrier Centre Court.

Today though, he will be back in the main spotlight with Monfils on the other side of the net in the semi-finals after both won through to the last four.

The hugely popular Federer needs a win in the French Open to complete his Grand Slam set and seal his claim to be the best player of all time. Which way the fans will lean remains to be seen.

"I feel the people support me here not just because I speak French," said the world No1 who has lost the last two finals in Paris to claycourt king Rafael Nadal.

"Even when I played against Julien [Benneteau] people were very fair.

"They were happy to see me playing. I think they're very supportive and I think they want me to win and they have wanted that for three years."

That support will be put to the test against Monfils. No Frenchman has won at Roland Garros since Yannick Noah in 1983 and his straight sets triumph that year over Mats Wilander still brings a tear to the eyes of many French tennis fans.

Since then, Henri Leconte is the only home player to have reached the final losing to Wilander in 1988.

Monfils has yet to take a set off Federer in the three matches they have played, two coming this year, but he says he is ready: "It's going to be a big match, probably the most important match in my career so far, but it's not the Game Seven yet.

"I'm getting closer to the objective, so I'm highly motivated. I've been practising for years for this moment, so I don't want to miss it."

The key for Monfils is that he is fully fit again after a succession of injuries over last year and his renewal with coach Thierry Champion appears to have sorted out his often-criticised mental approach to the game.

Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic, the world's best player in 2008, plans to derail Rafael Nadal's French Open ambitions.

Nadal and Djokovic will square up in the other semi-final today determined to ignore the history tinged implications of their mouthwatering contest.

Nadal is growing weary of comparisons with Borg who completed his four successive titles in 1981, five years before he was even born.

He is also quick to remind people that so far he has collected 26 tour trophies whereas Borg won six French Opens and 62 titles in all.

"This is just talk, talk, talk. What is important is to play well on the court, and we'll see who wins," said Nadal.

Despite Nadal's reluctance to mention himself in the same breath as the great Swede, his form here has been impressive.

His victory over Nicolas Almagro, who arrived at Roland Garros with more claycourt wins in 2008 than any other player, was the most one-sided quarter-final in French Open history.

Furthermore, he has lost just 25 games in five rounds, the lowest in any Grand Slam event in the Open era.

But Djokovic is not in an entirely hopeless position. "I don't want to get into the history books by beating Nadal. It's not my priority," he said.

"My priority is to keep winning and just trying to get as far as I can in the tournament. Winning the Grand Slam title is much more important."