Novak Djokovic topples Roger Federer in five sets to reach U.S. Open final against Rafael Nadal

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 12, 2010; 12:00 AM

FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y.- Rafael Nadal did his part, sailing into his first U.S. Open final with a straight-sets victory Saturday over Russia's outclassed Mikhail Youzhny.

But Roger Federer, nearly flawless these last two weeks in pursuit of a sixth U.S. Open title, came up short, failing to convert two match points against Serbian challenger Novak Djokovic and falling, 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5.

As a result, there will be no long-awaited Federer-Nadal final at the U.S. Open on Sunday. That was the story line tennis fans had clamored for since the draw was unveiled, eager to see the 24-year-old Nadal, at the peak of his powers, square off against Federer, who, if not still at his peak at 29, is nobly battling a barely perceptible decline.

But in a match he said he would remember the rest of his life, third-seeded Djokovic toppled second-seeded Federer with daring tactics and exhausting effort, yanking the Swiss champion from one side of the court to the other and blasting away at his vaunted forehand until it betrayed him one time too many.

After 3 hours 44 minutes, Federer sent one last forehand into the net (his 66th unforced error), sealing the victory for Djokovic, who responded with dazed disbelief.

As his parents embraced in the stands at Arthur Ashe Stadium, where Djokovic had lost all three of his previous U.S. Open matches against Federer, Djokovic crossed himself, dropped to his knees, kissed the court and buried his head in his hands.

"To be honest, I was just closing my eyes and hitting the forehand as fast as I can on match point," Djokovic explained afterward. "If it goes in, it goes in. If it goes out, another loss to Federer at the U.S. Open. I was very lucky."

The top-seeded Nadal holds a 14-7 edge against Djokovic, but the Serb has dominated their hard-court encounters. The two have never met at the U.S. Open.

Nadal is seeking to become the seventh man in history to complete a career Grand Slam, winning all of the sport's four majors. He will be a strong favorite Sunday, as the higher-ranked, higher-seeded and fresher man.

Asked how he planned to recover from his five-set battle against Federer, with the final against Nadal only 20 hours away, Djokovic joked that he planned to eat popcorn and watch TV.

"I will do anything that comes up to your mind legally, recovery-wise," said Djokovic, 23. "I will do it. Emotional recovery with my girlfriend, and a couple of things I cannot talk about."

Then he mused about rituals that might bring rain on Sunday and, with it, a day's delay.

The Djokovic-Federer semifinal was the highest-quality match of the tournament, with the shot-making as bold in the fifth set as it was in the first.

The Serb fought off two match points at 4-5 to hold his serve, then broke Federer to take a 6-5 lead. When he stepped to the baseline to serve for the match, Djokovic was gasping for air. But he battled any impulse to play cautiously and, on the biggest points, shut his eyes and blasted his forehand with all his might.

"It's a tough loss for me," Federer said, "but it's only going to fuel me with more motivation to practice hard and get back to Grand Slam finals, which I haven't been in for the last three slams."

Nadal has yet to drop a set in the tournament and met little resistance in his 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Youzhny. The Spaniard had so much energy left after the 2-hour 13 minute-workout that he did a pirouette in the air to celebrate.

It's Nadal's best chance yet to win the U.S. Open after seven years of trying. In 2008, in which he won his fourth French Open, his first Wimbledon, claimed the No. 1 ranking for the first time and won gold at the Beijing Olympics, he arrived at the U.S. Open in August "mentally destroyed," as he characterizes it. In 2009, he battled tendinitis and tore an abdominal muscle weeks before the tournament began.

It was a sun-drenched afternoon at the USTA National Tennis Center, eerily similar to the weather the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

Nadal, who was 15 at the time of the terrorist attacks, expressed his support for the families of the victims that day during on-court remarks. Asked what prompted the comments, Nadal explained that, like the rest of the world, he was shocked by the attacks and vividly remembers where he was at the time.

"That's just the minimum thing that I can say, all the support for the victims and for the families," Nadal said. "For sure that is always in my mind."

Earlier Saturday, Arlington's Denis Kudla stormed into the finals of the U.S. Open junior boys' tournament with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over eighth-seeded Agustin Velotti of Argentina, who won the French Open boys' title in June.

Also advancing was Jack Sock of Lincoln, Neb., who toppled the No. 2 seed, Marton Fucsovics of Hungary, 6-3, 6-4.

Sunday's final will mark the first all-American U.S. Open boys final since 2000, when Andy Roddick beat Robby Ginepri in straight sets.

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