Roger Federer ousted defending Monte Carlo Masters champion Novak Djokovic 7-5, 6-2 on Saturday to set up an all-Swiss final against Stanislas Wawrinka.
Djokovic complained of soreness in his right wrist at the start of the week and took to the court with it heavily strapped. Although he seemed to be fairly comfortable at the start of the semifinal, the wrist seemed to affect him more toward the end of the first set, and he was serving way below his best throughout the second.
"It's unfortunate that when you're playing at this level against Roger, big tournament, that you are not able to play your game because something else is taking away all your energy and effort," Djokovic said. "This injury has been present for last 10 days, and I tried not to think or talk about it. I did everything I could really, I was on the medications every day, I was doing different therapies, injections."
The fourth-seeded Federer entered the tournament only after accepting a wild card invitation, having missed the two previous editions, and he bids to win it for the first time after losing three consecutive finals to eight-time champion Rafael Nadal from 2006-08. He improved to 18-16 against Djokovic in their head-to-heads.
Sunday's final will be the first all-Swiss final since Marc Rosset beat Federer in Marseille in 2000, and the first time that Federer and Wawrinka meet for a title. The odds appear against Wawrinka, who trails Federer 13-1 overall. But he will take heart from the fact the only win was here, in the third round, back in 2009.
Djokovic missed two break-point chances when he had Federer 15-40 down in the 10th game, but Federer's backhand got him out of trouble and he saved the next one with a smash at the net.
Federer's touch was inconsistent in his quarterfinal win against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, but he was sharp against Djokovic, teasing him with one casual drop shot that surprised the Serb and drew loud cheers from the center-court crowd soaking up the Mediterranean sunshine.
Federer broke for 6-5 when Djokovic netted a weak forehand. At the changeover, Djokovic nursed his right wrist as he sat in his chair, looking stern-faced and pensive.
"I'm disappointed that I could not play as well as I could have if I was healthy enough," Djokovic said. "From the end of the first and the whole second, every shot was pain, especially with the serve. I couldn't do much more than this."
Djokovic's first-serve speed dropped to 160 kph (100 mph) in the second set and he was unable to properly flex his arm as he tried to return one shot from Federer in the third game.
"I didn't want to pull out because then people start talking different things about me and my withdraws and so forth. That was the main reason," Djokovic said. "I just held my strength, whatever I had, and wanted to play until the end."
But it was becoming too easy for Federer, who secured successive breaks to take control. He raised both hands in the air after winning on his first match point, and Djokovic sloped off looking despondent and doubtless worried about his wrist.
Wawrinka progressed after beating Spaniard David Ferrer 6-1, 7-6 (3). Wawrinka has six career titles but has lost his previous two Masters finals on clay — at Madrid last year and in Rome six years ago to Djokovic.
Although the third-seeded Wawrinka made a string of unforced errors — 40 compared to 12 for Ferrer — he hit far more winners, 31-8, in beating Ferrer for a third straight time.
"It was important to move well, be aggressive. That was my plan," Wawrinka said. "I know when I'm moving well and I can dictate the game, I'm always good against him."
Wawrinka remains on course for his third title of the season, the fourth of his career on clay and his first in any Masters event.