NEW YORK — Facing two match points against a beloved player whose name is in the history books, Novak Djokovic clenched his jaw, nodded and flashed an ever-so-slight smile.
"I would lie if I say I didn't think I'm going to lose," Djokovic said.
Might as well go down swinging, then, right?
He turned violently on a wide, 108 mph serve from Roger Federer for a crosscourt forehand winner that barely nicked the line. The fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium, ready to explode for a Federer victory, instead found themselves taking a cue from Djokovic, who raised his hands, asking them to pump up the volume and give him a little more love.
About 10 minutes later, those fans were dancing with Djoko as he boogied at center court to celebrate an epic U.S. Open semifinal win, one in which he dug out of a two-set hole, then saved two match points to beat Federer at the tournament for the second straight year.
Top-seeded Djokovic won 6-7 (5-7), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 Saturday to improve to 63-2 on the year. This was his second career comeback from two sets down; Federer lost a two-set lead for the second time in three months after going 178-0 lifetime when up two before this year's Wimbledon quarterfinals.
Next, Djokovic faces defending champion Rafael Nadal in a rematch of last year's final. No. 2 Nadal beat No. 4 Andy Murray 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 in the later semifinal. Djokovic is 5-0 against Nadal this year. All the meetings have been in tournament finals, including Wimbledon.
"I didn't find the solution (to beating Djokovic) yet," Nadal said. "I will try my best. … I think I played a fantastic match (in last year's final). I will try the same."
Nadal's four-set win over Djokovic last year made him the fourth man to win three Grand Slam titles in a year since the start of the Open era. Djokovic could become the fifth, though he said regardless of what happens, the comeback win over Federer will always stand out.
"It was definitely the biggest win of this year, one of the biggest wins of the career under the circumstances," Djokovic said. "Roger was in control, playing better. I switched gears and played much better over three sets."
So much better that after the fourth set, the prospect of third-seeded Federer ever getting a match point seemed bleak.
Djokovic — who spent the first two sets shaking his head, commiserating with the folks in his players box, even folding his hands in mock prayer — turned things around suddenly and unexpectedly.
He got an early break in the third to capture the momentum. After winning that one, he placed 16 of 20 of his first serves in during the fourth set and tore off his first 15 service points to easily push the match to the distance.
Federer said Djokovic is the best version of the kind of players he faced as a kid: those who start taking huge chances when they believe they have nothing else to lose.
"Then to lose against someone like that, it's very disappointing, because you feel like he was mentally out of it already," Federer said. "Just gets the lucky shot at the end, and off you go."