Novak Djokovic stretches for a return against David Ferrer. (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The rivalry between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray isn’t as celebrated as the Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal showdowns of the past decade.

But it has more history, dating to 1998, when Murray won his first clash with Djokovic when both were just 11. And it has become increasingly compelling, with the Serb and Scot meeting for a fifth time this season on Monday, with the U.S. Open title at stake.

It will be the first U.S. Open men’s final since 2003 to not include either Federer or Nadal, who have allowed only two other men to raise the trophy in the last nine years (Djokovic in 2011 and Juan Martin del Potro, 2009).

Federer, 31, was upset in the quarterfinals this year; Nadal, 26, has been sidelined by knee problems since his second-round ouster at Wimbledon in June.

And as Monday’s championship underscores, what for so long was a two-man battle for tennis supremacy is now a four-man scramble, with Djokovic and Murray in position to stake a claim as the season’s dominant player with a U.S. Open victory.

If Djokovic successfully defends his 2011 title, he’d become the only man to win multiple majors this year, opening 2012 with a five-sets triumph over Nadal in the final of the Australian Open, after ousting Murray in five sets in the semifinals.

If Murray wins, snapping an 0-4 streak in Grand Slam finals, it would be the first time since 2003 that four different men have won the four majors. (Nadal won the French Open; Federer took Wimbledon.) But Murray’s résumé would shine brightest among them given the Olympic gold he won by beating Djokovic and Federer back-to-back in the semifinals and final.

Murray, who is 25 and exactly one week older than Djokovic, has had a day to reflect on the opportunity at hand, earning his spot in Monday’s rain-delayed final on Saturday. Djokovic faces a quicker turnaround, forced to complete his semifinal against Spain’s David Ferrer on Sunday morning.

Djokovic was hardly griping, however, grateful for the violent storm that marched across Long Island on Saturday as he was hurtling toward a swift and shocking exit from the tournament. Ferrer had raced to a 5-2 lead in the first set, despite 30-mph winds that wrecked the Serb’s well-tuned game, when players were ordered off the court and the crowd sent home amid reports of a tornado nearby.

Conditions couldn’t have been more different when play resumed at 11:15 a.m. Sunday. Sun-drenched skies and a gentle breeze had replaced the gusting winds. And Djokovic was a different player, seizing the momentum quickly and rolling to a 2-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 victory.

“Ferrer was, I think, coping with the conditions much better than I did,” Djokovic said, referring to Saturday’s wind that made serving as much of a crapshoot as any Las Vegas casino game. “I didn’t mind getting off the court yesterday, to be honest, and coming in today.”

Djokovic broke Ferrer’s serve twice to take a 4-0 lead in the second set. Ferrer was tougher to subdue in the third set. But the Spaniard had no counter for Djokovic’s serve in the fourth set, in which the Serb won the point on 11 of his 12 first serves.

Also Sunday, Italy’s Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani won the women’s doubles title, 6-4, 6-2, over Czechs Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka. Wild card Samantha Crawford, 17, of Atlanta, won the junior girls’ title, defeating Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, 7-5, 6-3.