Djokovic Gets by Wawrinka to Face Nadal Again in U.S. Open Final

The men’s and women’s finals at the U.S. Open, each featuring a battle of the top two seeds, will help determine who had the most successful Grand Slam tennis season.

Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka, who play today in a women’s final rematch at the National Tennis Center in New York, and Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, who advanced to tomorrow’s men’s final, each will be looking to claim their second of the four major championships in 2013.

Nadal, the No. 2 seed who won his 12th Grand Slam title at the French Open in June, is heading into his third U.S. Open final with Djokovic in the last four years. The Spaniard said that he’s focused solely on winning the New York tournament and not about its implications.

“Not everything is about Grand Slams,” Nadal, who missed last year’s U.S. Open and this year’s Australian Open due to a knee injury, told reporters yesterday after beating No. 9 seed Richard Gasquet of France in straight sets. “I’m happy the way I’ve played since I came back. I’m going to try my best to win on Monday, but being the second will not make the difference. The difference is winning the U.S. Open.”

Djokovic, a 26-year-old from Serbia ranked No. 1 on the ATP World Tour, came back to beat No. 9 seed Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland yesterday in a five-set match that took more than four hours. Nadal, 27, followed with a 6-4, 7-6 (7-1), 6-2 win over Gasquet in 2 1/2 hours.

Williams, the 31-year-old French Open champion, will be seeking her 17th Grand Slam title today when she plays the 24-year-old Azarenka. Williams, No. 1 on the WTA tour, holds a 12-3 advantage over Azarenka in head-to-head meetings, including a three-setter a year ago to win in New York. Azarenka, ranked No. 2 won the Australian Open for the second straight year.

‘Plays Best’

“When she plays me she plays her best, by far,” Williams said of Azarenka. “I have seen her play other players, and when I play her I’m playing a totally different player.”

Nadal, who won the year’s final major tournament over Djokovic in 2010 and lost the title to him the following year, will be seeking his 13th Grand Slam singles crown. Djokovic will be trying to win his seventh Grand Slam singles championship.

Nadal raised his record on hard courts this year to 21-0 with yesterday’s win, calling his return to the final “amazing.”

“After what happened last year, having a chance to play in this court, having a chance to play in the final is dream for me,” Nadal said in a televised on-court interview. “Novak is an amazing competitor. His results say he’s one of the best players that I’ve ever seen.”

Streak Ends

Nadal broke Gasquet’s serve to open each of the first two sets. Gasquet, playing his second Grand Slam semifinal after Wimbledon in 2007, evened the second set at 2-2, ending a streak of 88 consecutive service holds by Nadal that dated to the semifinal of last month’s tournament in Cincinnati.

The set went to a tiebreaker, which Gasquet double-faulted to open and close. Nadal won the final set in 38 minutes as Gasquet again served a double-fault.

The Arthur Ashe Stadium atmosphere was much more electric for the first semifinal, when Djokovic won a trip to the championship match for the fourth straight year. Djokovic twice was down a set before beating Wawrinka 2-6, 7-6 (7-4), 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in 4 hours, 9 minutes.

Playing on the Ashe court on a sunny, 78-degree Fahrenheit (26-degree Celsius) day, Djokovic won while converting just four of 19 break-point chances. The match was Wawrinka’s first Grand Slam semifinal.

‘Live For’

“These matches is what we live for, what we practice for, and I want to congratulate, firstly, my opponent for fighting hard until the end,” Djokovic said in a televised on-court interview.

Djokovic, whose serve was broken five times in his first five matches in the tournament, lost three times on his serve in the first set, hitting 14 unforced errors and six winners.

After coming back from down a break in the second set to win it in a tiebreaker, Djokovic was broken in the third set without winning a point to trail 3-5. Wawrinka served out the set, gaining set point after a 35-shot rally and then hitting a service winner.

After dropping a game on his serve to fall to 0-2 in the fourth set, Wawrinka was penalized a point for slamming his racket to the ground in anger following an error. With the racket not completely broken, he bent it over his knee until it snapped in half.

Injury Treatment

Trailing 1-4 in the fourth, Wawrinka left the court for about six minutes for a medical timeout after sliding to the ground and straining his right thigh trying to stop his momentum in the previous game. Djokovic won the set with his fifth ace of the day.

At 1-1 and Wawrinka serving in the fifth set, the two played a 21-minute game that had 12 deuces and led to several standing ovations. Wawrinka saved five break points and won the game on the 30th point.

Djokovic broke in Wawrinka’s next service game, and took the set and the match with his sixth ace, raising both arms in celebration.

“Stan played more aggressive and he played a better tennis overall,” Djokovic said. “I was trying to hang in there, to adjust.”

Each player won 165 points in the match, while Wawrinka hit 57 winners, compared to 38 for Djokovic.

“I just tried to hang on and fight and be mentally tough and believe all the way through I can actually win,” Djokovic told reporters after the match. “And I sincerely believed that as the match progresses and longer it goes, I felt I have maybe that physical edge over him.”

Australian Reprise

Djokovic is now 13-2 for his career against Wawrinka. He also started slowly the last time they played, in the fourth round of the Australian Open in January. Djokovic survived that five-hour match 1-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 12-10 and went on to win his third straight title in Melbourne.

“Today, I was a little bit struggling, physically,” Wawrinka said, fighting through leg cramps during his news conference. “When I was still healthy I had the match in control. I think I was playing better than him.”

The men’s final was scheduled for a Monday conclusion after weather delays forced the five previous U.S. Opens to be completed on Monday. The U.S. Tennis Association announced plans last month to put roofs on Arthur Ashe Stadium and a newly constructed Louis Armstrong Stadium as part of a $550 million renovation of the tennis center. The Ashe roof could be in place by 2016.

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