TENNIS: Djokovic, Nadal to face off in U.S. Open men's final for third time since 2010
NEW YORK — The game that will be talked about for years and years required 198 strokes, 30 points, and 21 minutes to decide. Entire sets have taken less.
It might be easy to conclude that Novak Djokovic won his tense, topsy-turvy U.S. Open semifinal against Stanislas Wawrinka despite dropping that epic third game of the fifth set. The truth is that the 2011 champion emerged with a 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 victory in 4 hours, 9 minutes on Saturday at least in part because of the one that got away.
“Even though I lost that game, I felt like, ‘OK, he’s getting a little bit more tired, and maybe this is my chance to step in,’” Djokovic said. “And that’s what I (did).”
The No. 1-seeded Djokovic will play No. 2 Rafael Nadal on Monday. It’s their record 37th match against each other, their sixth Grand Slam final, and their third meeting for the championship at Flushing Meadows since 2010. Nadal was a 6-4, 7-6 (1), 6-2 winner over No. 8 Richard Gasquet of France in Saturday’s second semifinal, which was far less competitive than the first.
Indeed, the tennis and theatrics at 1-all in the last set alone of Djokovic-Wawrinka were so compelling that the game was interrupted twice by standing ovations.
By then, Wawrinka’s strained right thigh had been taped after a medical timeout in the fourth set (he would be seized by cramps during his postmatch news conference). Still, he managed to erase five break points and navigate 12 deuces until finally delivering a 123 mph service winner to hold for a 2-1 edge. He stepped gingerly to the sideline, plopped down in his chair and smiled.
That grin remained in place throughout the two-minute changeover. If the ninth-seeded Wawrinka was enjoying the moment, perhaps feeling a tad relieved, Djokovic was ever more determined. He responded by taking the next three games, propelling himself to a fourth consecutive title match at Flushing Meadows and fifth since 2007.
“I was already quite tired,” said Wawrinka, who won the same number of points in the match as Djokovic, 165. “I was already quite dead physically.”
Nothing quite that dramatic occurred when 12-time major champion Nadal played Gasquet, who was in his first Grand Slam semifinal since 2007. The most newsworthy moment of their match came right at the 1-hour mark, when Nadal let a forehand drift long to get broken and make it 2-all in the second set. That allowed Gasquet to become the first player to break Nadal’s serve in the entire tournament, ending a run of 73 holds.
There were five other break points for Gasquet, but Nadal saved each while stretching his hard-court record in 2013 to 21-0.
A year after missing the U.S. Open because of a bad left knee, Nadal is looking as fit and as impressive as ever.
“I don’t know if it’s a victory to (break) his serve. I’m not sure about it. I think it’s better to win one set or more,” said Gasquet, now 0-11 against Nadal.
Today, while Nadal and Djokovic rest and prepare, No. 1 Serena Williams will play No. 2 Victoria Azarenka for the women’s championship. It’s the first time both U.S. Open singles finals are 1-2 matchups since 1996.
Nadal is 21-15 against Djokovic, but said when they play, it “becomes a very difficult match for both of us.
Nadal said he’d rather face a less-formidable foe, because wanting to play someone as good as Djokovic would be “stupid.”
Djokovic, meanwhile, called trying to beat Nadal “the biggest challenge that you can have in our sport now.”