Darn. I really wanted to see a Rafa/Roger final at the US Open. Here in the press box, where you’re not allowed to cheer, we were quietly rooting for it. It would have been a compelling and dramatic story.
Nadal and Federer have played each other in nine Slam finals, none of them at the US Open. Between the two of them, they’ve won 21 of the last 24 majors. Federer has won five US Opens, holds the record of 16 major titles, clinched a career Grand Slam with his win at Roland Garros last year and is considered by many the 'Greatest of All Time.' Nadal, who has supplanted Federer as world number one, is the only guy who can consistently beat him. He has a 14-7 record against Fed. He’s won an Olympic gold medal. He’s helped Spain win three Davis Cup titles.
So, who’s REALLY the greatest of all time?
We won’t get a chance to write that story, certainly not with Arthur Ashe Stadium as a backdrop.
That’s because Novak Djokovic spoiled the storyline, with his dramatic, hard-fought upset of Federer in their semifinal.
“I’m sorry for all the ones who didn’t --” Novak stopped himself. “Who wanted to see Roger and Rafa in the final. But, you know, I really didn’t think about that too much. I’m sure we gonna have a great final tomorrow, as well.”
After losing to Federer three years in a row -- in the semis last year and in 2008, and in the final in 2007 -- Djokovic found his nerve and his shots, upsetting the five-time US Open champ 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5. Along the way, he stared down two match points, serving at 15-40, 4-5, in the fifth set.
“I kind of closed my eyes on the forehands in the match points, and just went for the shots,” he says.
The first shot was a swinging forehand volley cross court. 30-40. The next one was a clutch, inside-in forehand down the line. Deuce. Djokovic took the game to his advantage three times before he finally won it.
Federer’s forehand failed him in the next game, sailing wide on a crosscourt shot at break point. 6-5, Djokovic.
It looked iffy for Djokovic in the twelfth game. Federer got out to an early, 0-30 lead. The crowd was shouting encouragement. They were doing what the press box couldn’t. Another unforced forehand error from Federer, and a forehand volley winner from Djokovic, tied it up, 30-all. Then, remarkably, another opening for Federer, the kind he usually barrels through like a linebacker. Djokovic has pushed a backhand crosscourt wide, to go down a break point, 30-40.
Once again, Federer’s forehand failed him. Djokovic won the set, and the match, and got down on his hands and knees and kisse the court.
Federer did not give Djokovic much credit for outplaying him. He says he felt “empty at the end.”
“Because you have tried everything, and maybe it was luck. Maybe it was he played well.”
“Maybe you didn’t pick the right shot, maybe he did.”
And then Roger found the silver lining in the dark cloud of loss:
“It wasn’t the final, so I’m not as disappointed [as I’d be if ] it would have been the final.”
Federer says it’s “fantastic” that Rafa, who’s 24, has the chance to win a career Grand Slam...and to do so at an earlier age than he did. But he won’t watch the match.
“Look, I’ve been around tennis for weeks and weeks and weeks right now,” he harrumphed. “Last thing I want to do is watch another tennis match where I’m not a part of.”
He says he’ll spend time with his twin baby girls, maybe go shopping, “if shops are open here in New York Sundays.” IF? Roger, call your friend, Anna Wintour. It’s Fashion Week.
Djokovic, meanwhile, rubbed his hands with glee when a reporter told him rain was in the forecast for the final.
“I don’t know the rituals how to invite the rain, but...an extra day would be great, actually,” he said, smiling.
Djokovic readily admits he’s tired. Asked what he’ll do in the next few hours to prepare, he quipped, “Popcorn, watching TV, relaxing. Yeah, I will do anything that comes up to your mind -- legally -- recovery-wise.”
I hope it’s not a quick straight-setter for Nadal, who’s 14-7 against Djokovic. I hope Djokovic has some game left, and doesn’t settle for this well-deserved win against the 'Greatest of All Time.' I hope he gives the next 'Greatest of All Time' a fight. I hope it isn’t like the women’s final.
It took just one hour for Kim Clijsters to beat error-prone, meltdown queen Vera Zvonareva, 6-2, 6-1. It’s Clijsters’ second consecutive US Open victory, and her third overall. This is the only major she has won. She told the crowd during the award ceremony that New York feels like home.
Home must be a big, silver trophy.
Should I even mention how Rafael Nadal got to the final? He rolled past 12th-seed Mikhail Youzhny, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4. The Russian was a shadow of the man who toughed out a five set quarterfinal against Stanislaw Wawrinka.
Novak Djokovic, take heed.