NEW YORK - A couple of points in Roger Federer's straight-sets semifinal victory over Novak Djokovic on Sunday were perfectly illustrative of the wizardry that has landed Federer in his sixth consecutive U.S. Open final today.
For the record, Federer, the top seed, won 7-6 (7-3), 7-5, 7-5, and Djokovic, the No. 4 seed, played well. But at 5-5 in the third set, with Federer serving, Djokovic swatted four consecutive volleys that all were returned rapid-fire by Federer. On the last one, Djokovic, aware that he was a sitting duck at the net, turned his back on Federer, bent over and offered his rear as a target.
Then, with Djokovic serving at 5-6 in the third, hoping to get to at least a tiebreaker, he double faulted to 0-30 and, after apparently lifting the perfect lob beyond a sprinting Federer, had to watch as Federer ran it down and, back to the net, flicked a between-the-legs winner into the left corner.
"There was nothing else I could do," Federer said. And, besides, he practices such a shot a lot, though, he said, "it never works. That's why, I guess, it was the greatest shot I ever hit in my life."
He quickly completed his 40th consecutive match victory at the Open, dating to 2004, and put himself in position to win his sixth straight U.S. Open title. He faces sixth seed Juan Martin del Potro, who beat No. 3 Rafael Nadal, 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 to make his first Grand Slam final at 20.
It was Nadal's worst defeat in a Grand Slam tournament.
Del Potro put on a show that was every bit as efficient as Federer's was spectacular, taking apart Nadal with a flurry of big serves and precise forehands.
Nadal finally acknowledged his strained abdominals were bothering him throughout this tournament, but he didn't want that to take away from del Potro's effort.
"I'm going to repeat: He played much better than me, and for that reason, he beat me," Nadal said.
Del Potro - the first from Argentina to make a U.S. Open final since Guillermo Vilas in 1977 - is 0-6 lifetime against Federer and hadn't won a set until this year in the French Open semifinals. But he went up two sets to one in that match before losing in five sets.
Del Potro said he is seeing the ball very well this week.
"Maybe my green eyes. I don't know," he said.
"It's very tough playing against Rafa or Roger. But (Sunday) I play unbelievable, and that was the key."