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Djokovic plays the role of spoiler

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

Novak Djokovic prevented what would have been the eighth Grand Slam championship match between the two — and the first 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 Saturday's semifinals.

"One of those matches," Djokovic said, "you'll always remember in your career."

It means Djokovic, seeded third, 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 semis at the U.S. Open before beating No. 12 Mikhail Youzhny 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 on Saturday.

Federer had reached six straight Open finals, winning five times from 2004-08, but he repeatedly let leads slip away this time. Federer took the first set against Djokovic, then the third. Even after Djokovic forced a fifth set, Federer twice was one point from winning.

"You feel like you left something out there if you lose a match having had match point," said Federer, who hadn't dropped a set all tournament until the semis but was hurt by 66 unforced errors, 28 more than Djokovic. "It wasn't a final, so I'm not as disappointed if it would have been a final."

Djokovic saved the match points while trailing 5-4 and serving. "To be honest, I was just closing my eyes and hitting forehands as fast as I can on match point," he said. "If it goes in, it goes in. If it goes out, just another loss to Federer in the U.S. Open. I managed to come back. I was very lucky."

Djokovic had lost to Federer at each of the previous three Opens, in the 2007 final and the 2008 and '09 semis.

The setback for Federer comes after losses in the French Open and Wimbledon quarterfinals. He closes the Grand Slam season having played in one major final, the first time since 2003 he hasn't reached at least two.

Nadal, 24, today can become the seventh man to own at least one championship from each Grand Slam tournament.

"I won't watch," Federer said, "but I hope he wins."

The Djokovic-Federer match was far more entertaining than the day's first semifinal. Nadal dominated with his serve again, holding 13 of 14 times, making him 89 of 91 for the tournament.

"After a lot of work," said Nadal, who hasn't dropped a set here, "I am here in the final."

The Spaniard lost in the semifinals 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. Last year he lost to eventual champion Juan Martin del Potro while dealing with achy knees and a torn abdominal muscle.

"I always arrived here with problems," he said.

This year he took three weeks off after winning Wimbledon (he also won the French Open) to rest and get knee treatments.

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

fast facts

Men's final

No. 1 Rafael Nadal vs. No. 3 Novak Djokovic, 4 p.m. today. TV: Ch. 10

Djokovic plays the role of spoiler 09/11/10 [Last modified: Saturday, September 11, 2010 9:00pm]
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