Paris - Swedish fourth seed Robin Soderling ended unseeded Frenchman Michael Llodra's Paris Masters fairytale in the semi-finals with an epic 6-7 (0/7), 7-5, 7-6 (8/6) win at the Bercy arena on Saturday.
Soderling, a two-time French Open finalist, had to save three match points at 5-6 down in the third set, with Llodra notably netting a forehand when the Swede was at the net and the court was at his mercy.
Llodra had never previously gone beyond the third round at a Masters event but he fought back from 5-2 down in the decisive tie-break, as a roller-coaster of an encounter reached crescendo after two hours and 49 minutes.
In Sunday's final Soderling will meet either Swiss top seed Roger Federer or the French 12th seed Gael Monfils, last year's beaten finalist, who meet in the second semi-final later on Saturday.
"My God, tennis is frustrating!" said 30-year-old Llodra, who is a member of the France team set to take on Serbia in the Davis Cup final on December 3-5.
"But there you go, I have nothing to reproach myself for. I tried, I gave everything, I wasn't far away and even though I'm disappointed, there's still a great opportunity in the Davis Cup final."
Despite the pain of defeat, the left-hander could console himself with the satisfaction of having produced arguably the best tennis of his career.
Having already beaten world number three Novak Djokovic and world number 11 Nikolay Davydenko en route to the semi-finals, he thrilled the Bercy crowd with his throwback style on Saturday.
His game at the net was particularly impressive and some spectacular volleys enabled him to whitewash Soderling in the first-set tie-break, before the Swede drew level after securing the decisive break in the second set.
Llodra required treatment on blisters in the decider but still had the strength to hit back from 4-2 down to force the tie-break.
Soderling's victory sends the 26-year-old into the first Masters final of his career and, after final defeats at Roland Garros in 2009 and 2010, he will hope for better luck on the other side of the city.
"I hope that this will be the one," said Soderling, who declared himself "happy and definitely lucky to have got through".