Nadal advances to first US Open final

By Howard Fendrich
Associated Press / September 12, 2010

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NEW YORK — So much for Rafa vs. Roger in the US Open final.

Novak Djokovic prevented what would have been the eighth Grand Slam championship match between tennis’s top two men — and first such showdown at Flushing Meadows — by saving two match points and coming back to stun Roger Federer, 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5, in the second semifinal yesterday.

“One of those matches, you’ll always remember,’’ Djokovic said.

It means that the third-seeded Djokovic will be standing between No. 1 Rafael Nadal and a career Grand Slam in today’s final. Nadal owns eight major titles but never had been past the semifinals at the US Open before beating No. 12 Mikhail Youzhny, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.

Federer had reached six consecutive finals at the US Open, winning five trophies from 2004-08, but he repeatedly let leads slip away this time. Federer took the first set against Djokovic, then the third. And even after Djokovic forced a fifth set, Federer twice was a single point from winning.

With the crowd trying to will Federer to victory — probably because of the tantalizing prospect of a final between him and Nadal — the owner of a record 16 Grand Slam titles couldn’t close the deal.

“They all pretty much feel the same: You feel so empty at the end, I guess, because you tried everything,’’ said Federer, who hadn’t dropped a set all tournament before yesterday, but was hurt by 66 unforced errors, 28 more than Djokovic.

“You feel like you left something out there if you lose a match having had match point,’’ Federer added. “It wasn’t a final, so I’m not as disappointed if it would have been a final.’’

Federer closes the 2010 Grand Slam season having played in one major final — the first year since 2003 that he hasn’t reached at least two.

Nadal, meanwhile, will be bidding to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open in the same season. The 24-year-old Spaniard also can become the seventh man in tennis history to own a career Grand Slam.

“I won’t watch,’’ Federer said, “but I hope he wins.’’

Federer’s 3-hour-44-minute loss to Djokovic was far more entertaining than the day’s first semifinal. Nadal dominated with his serve again, holding 13 of 14 times yesterday, making him 89 of 91 for the tournament.

“After a lot of work,’’ said Nadal, who hasn’t dropped a set these two weeks, “I am here in the final.’’

He lost in the semifinals in New York each of the past two years. In 2008, he lost to Andy Murray, and now says he was wiped out mentally after a long, if successful, summer that included a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics. In 2009, he lost to eventual champion Juan Martin del Potro, while dealing with achy knees and a torn abdominal muscle.

“Well, it’s another step, I think, in my career, so for sure it’s a very important victory for me,’’ Nadal said. “To be in the final of the last Grand Slam of the year is something new, because I always arrived here with problems.’’

Not this year.

He took three weeks off after Wimbledon — skipping Spain’s Davis Cup quarterfinal — to rest and get treatment on the knees that bothered him so much of last season and the beginning of this season.

“Tough to say who is better than Rafa,’’ Youzhny said. “I mean, he’s No. 1 and he played really good tennis.’’

Today’s final will be the 22d meeting between Djokovic and Nadal, one of whom will become a US Open champion for the first time.