NEW YORK -- Roger Federer watched his opponent's last shot of their U.S. Open semifinal drop out, then calmly walked to the
net for a handshake.
He didn't drop to his knees, didn't thrust an index finger to
the sky, didn't take off his shirt -- the sort of celebratory
gestures Novak Djokovic came up with earlier Saturday upon reaching
his first Grand Slam final.
You see, Federer does not get overly excited about semifinal
victories, even at majors tournaments. He's all about titles, and
now he's one victory away from yet another: No. 4 at the U.S. Open,
No. 12 overall at Slams.
Tested at the start and again late, the No. 1-seeded Federer
worked his way past No. 4 Nikolay Davydenko 7-5, 6-1, 7-5 Saturday,
stretching his winning streak at Flushing Meadows to 26 matches.
In Sunday's championship match, Federer will face the only man to beat him over the past three months: Djokovic. The No. 3-seeded
Serb had a harder time with the heat and humidity than with his foe
but overcame all three to defeat No. 15 David Ferrer 6-4, 6-4, 6-3.
"The conditions were extreme," Djokovic said. "It was so hot."
The 20-year-old Djokovic is the youngest men's finalist at Flushing Meadows since Pete Sampras was 19 when he won the 1990 title. Djokovic is also the first man from Serbia to get to any major final.
Federer is bidding to become the first man since the 1920s to win the American Grand Slam four times in a row. He took a 9-0 record against Davydenko into their match, and another victory for Federer would make him the first man in tennis history to reach 10 consecutive Grand Slam finals.
That was to be followed by the women's championship, with No. 1 Justine Henin taking on No. 4 Svetlana Kuznetsova in a matchup between past Open title winners.
The temperature neared 90 degrees during the Djokovic-Ferrer match, and from early in the second set, Djokovic was troubled. He sought treatment from a doctor at changeovers then and again in the third, and draped around his neck a white towel filled with ice.
He also put a white baseball cap on to provide shade. And when
the match ended with a beautiful volley by Djokovic, he dropped to his knees with arms raised, then got up and pulled off his shirt.
A sign of his exhaustion: Djokovic tried throwing the shirt into the stands, but it didn't quite reach the seats. Then he picked it up and heaved it again, underhanded, and this time was successful. In the player's guest box, Djokovic's dad followed suit, pulling off his shirt and encouraging others in nearby seats to do the same.
"I feel very exhausted," Djokovic told the doctor during a
visit after he broke Ferrer to go ahead 2-1 in the third set.
Djokovic long has displayed the talent to be among the best in
tennis, but he also has had his body break down in the latter
stages of Slams. He quit because of injuries during a French Open
quarterfinal in 2006 and a Wimbledon semifinal this year.
His play was too good on this day, though, thanks to the sort of
shotmaking Djokovic displayed while beating Federer, No. 2 Rafael
Nadal and then-No. 3 Andy Roddick in succession en route to a
hard-court title in Montreal last month -- the first man since 1994
to beat Nos. 1-3 in the rankings at a single tournament.
And Djokovic sure did frustrate Ferrer, who upset Nadal in the
fourth round of the U.S. Open but wasn't nearly as good Saturday.
After losing one point in the second set, Ferrer let one of the
on-court clocks have it, winding up and kicking the digital readout
with full force. His soccer-style attack temporarily broke the
display and it was stuck on "0:50" for about 10 minutes.
So Ferrer managed to stop time.
He couldn't do a thing about stopping Djokovic.
Not that Djokovic was a shrinking violet, exactly, tossing his
racket a couple of times.
He also repeatedly was disturbed by fans talking during the
course of play, complaining to the chair umpire about it and even
barking in the direction of some spectators after he missed one
Then again, when Djokovic earned his first match point, he
encouraged the crowd to get louder. He's nothing if not a showman,
as was made clear when he entertained everyone at Arthur Ashe
Stadium with impersonations of Nadal and Maria Sharapova after
beating former No. 1 Carlos Moya in the quarterfinals.
In the semifinals, Djokovic began poorly, falling behind 3-0
while committing seven unforced errors before Ferrer made his
first. Ferrer then went ahead 4-1, before Djokovic finally began to
show what he can do.
Djokovic won 12 consecutive points and, eventually, seven
consecutive games to win the first set and go up a break in the
second. He showed off all sorts of tools, including in the second
game of the second set, when he won one point with a perfect lob
and another with a well-disguised drop shot.
It was during the next game, though, that Djokovic began to
labor between points, occasionally bending over to catch his
breath. At the ensuing changeover, a doctor checked Djokovic's
pulse, gave him a pill to take and told him to try to stay as cool
That's when Ferrer pretty much made his final stand, taking
three straight games while hopping on the balls of his feet during
breaks in action, as though to say, "Hey, don't know about you,
but I'm feeling great!"
Ferrer trailed 4-3 when Djokovic double-faulted to allow the
game to get to deuce. Djokovic yanked off his cap and got down to
business, ending the game a few points later with a 123 mph service
winner and a 125 mph service winner.
"At important moments," Ferrer said, "he served better than