MELBOURNE, Australia — The heavily hyped duel between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will not happen at the Australian Open, opening a rare window for someone else.
Federer, the defending champ, lost to Novak Djokovic 7-6 (7-3), 7-5, 6-4 in the semifinals Thursday. It marks the first time since 2008 neither of tennis' most dominant men will play in a Grand Slam final. Less than 24 hours earlier, Nadal's pursuit of his fourth consecutive Grand Slam title ended with a quarterfinal loss to fellow Spaniard David Ferrer.
In Sunday's final, Djokovic, 23, faces Ferrer or Andy Murray, who met early today (for the result, go to sports.tampabay.com).
Federer and Nadal have combined to win 21 of the past 23 majors. This is also the first time since 2003 that Federer, a 16-time Grand Slam winner, will not be a defending champion in at least one of the four majors.
It was the second straight time Federer lost to Djokovic. In the other, he had match points before losing in the U.S. Open semifinals.
Djokovic has won one major, the 2008 Australian.
"I had my ups and downs throughout these two, three years," Djokovic said. "But right now I feel like I'm much stronger and more consistent. And I know that I'm more stable, mentally and physically."
Federer fell behind quickly in the first-set tiebreaker on backhand errors, giving Djokovic four set points. In the second set, he let a 5-2 lead slip away.
"Every time I had a slight opportunity, either I didn't play my best or he played his best," Federer said. "It was a tough night from this standpoint. Those are sometimes the way matches go."
Federer, however, saved a parting shot for anyone who believes his time is up and a changing of the guard awaits: "Let's talk in six months."
Women's finalist seeks even more history
Li Na has made history by becoming the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final. That will become a footnote if she can't beat Kim Clijsters.
Li returned to the sport in 2004 after spending two years in college in a media-studies program. She took the rare step of breaking away from the state-run sports system in 2008 and hired her own coach, Thomas Hogstedt. At the end of 2010, she replaced him with her husband, Jiang Shan.
Li, 28, said her biggest strength is mental. "Right now I just feel more happy on the court."
On paper, the outcome appears clear-cut. Clijsters is a year younger and has three U.S. Open trophies among her 40 titles. She is a former No. 1 — now No. 3 — and easily beat No. 2 Vera Zvonareva in Wednesday's semifinal 6-3, 6-3.
Li has won only four titles. But one came against Clijsters two weeks ago in the Sydney International final. She rallied from a 5-0 deficit in the first set to win in straight sets.
"She's playing with, obviously, a lot of confidence. So am I," Clijsters said. "(The final) should be a good one."