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2013 US Open: Djokovic, Nadal setup dream finale

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On revamped super Saturday, the world’s highest ranked men staved off challenges of considerably varying natures to advance to the final of the 2013 US Open. Djokovic and Nadal will get a chance to reprise their rivalry for a 37th time on Monday following contrasting scorelines in their respective semifinals. Novak Djokovic had to battle through a 4 hour 9 minute slugfest against an inspired Stanislas Wawrinka 2-6, 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 while Rafael Nadal cruised past a defiant but underwhelming Richard Gasquet 6-4, 7-6(1), 6-2 in two hours twenty minutes.

In many ways the semifinals were a battle of the heavyweights against the middle weights and it certainly played out that way between Nadal and Gasquet. Gasquet cut and thrust like a fencer, but the bullish Nadal kept landing the big blows to keep the Frenchman’s challenge at arm’s length. In the first semifinal though, Wawrinka certainly tore up the script and took on the role of heavyweight himself. Going toe to toe with the World No.1 he pushed him to the hilt and it took all of Djokovic’s exceptional ability to extricate himself from adversity to finally prevail.

Djokovic & Nadal will now clash in the final on Monday for the third time in four years. The pair has split their finals here with Nadal winning in 2010 while Djokovic got his revenge the following year in 2011. Nadal goes into the final in better form having cruised through the opening rounds while Djokovic might benefit from having come through a tense situation in his semifinal. The final is Djokovic’s fifth here at Flushing Meadows and fourth consecutively while Nadal will play his third.

 

 

In the first semifinal World No.1 Djokovic was up against an inspired Stanislas Wawrinka fresh from his shock upset of Andy Murray in the quarterfinal. And the Swiss player carried on from where he left off against the Brit. Hitting with power off both wings, the World no.10 romped through the first set 6-2 completely dominating the beleaguered Serb who was left scratching his head for answers. Djokovic did contribute by smacking 14 unforced errors & winning a miniscule 1 of 9 on second serve points. Wawrinka with his burly physique, powerful serve and sheer weight of shot was barrelling through the Serb, and when he broke Djokovic to go up a set and a break, the Serb was left staring down the barrel. But Novak has shown time and again his incredible ability to respond to challenges. Taking advantage of a lapse by Wawrinka, the Serb broke back and played an exceedingly competent ensuing tiebreaker to level the match at a set apiece.

The question now was how Wawrinka would respond to the setback and whether the lost set was a blip or the first step in the caving in process. Wawrinka confirmed it was a blip as he kept at his game powering away at Djokovic. The initial exchanges in the set went with serve but at 3-4, Djokovic played a disappointing service game to hand Wawrinka the chance to serve out the set. The Swiss did not need a second invitation as he held to 6-3 leaving him a set away from an upset. The Swiss now had to be buoyant, had to seize the chance at the start of the fourth. Instead he sprayed it around and double faulted on breakpoint in his very first service game of the set. Naturally incensed, he proceeded to smash his racquet in the next game earning himself a point violation in the process. The one break was all that Djokovic needed as the match went into a decider.

Wawrinka seemed to be handling the situation well in the 5th as he resumed his assault on Djokovic even as the Serb continued to defend as only he can. It all seemed to be going as routinely as a fifth set can as Wawrinka hit a forehand winner to go up 40-30 in the third game. He followed it up with a double fault and the third game began its journey from straightforward to epic. 12 deuces, 5 break points, 7 game points – it lasted 21 minutes. A stone cold backhand winner, a brutal serve into the body and botched Djokovic returns – it took everything that Wawrinka had to stave off Djokovic as he managed to hold on. It clearly took a lot out of Wawrinka though as Djokovic rolled through his serve and then just had to watch as Wawrinka sent errors sailing outside the court boundaries as he surrendered his serve in the fifth game. The Djoker was ready to pounce but Wawrinka showing fantastic maturity refused to roll over and play dead forcing Djokovic to serve it out at 5-4. Djokovic in recent years has shown that he is a rock in tough situations and he served it out with aplomb to book his place in his fourth consecutive final here.

The second semifinal had a lot to live up to following the heroics of the first one. For that to happen of course, Gasquet would have to play out of his skin and crucially take the attack to Nadal at the outset much the way that Wawrinka had to Djokovic. Instead Gasquet began in almost exactly the way that Wawrinka didn’t. The Frenchman was forced onto the back foot right at the start dropping his serve in the very first game and Nadal quickly consolidated the break to go up 2-0. The Spaniard continued dominating the exchanges using both his heavy topspin forehand and also stepping in to drive the cross court backhand. Gasquet to his credit quickly reverted to plan B adopting a more aggressive slashing approach having realised that staying back to rally against Nadal was a ticket to disaster. The Frenchman had his moments hitting some fine backhands down the line and attacking the net at every opportunity highlighted by one superb reflex volley to create his lone break point opportunity. But the early advantage was not something that Nadal was going to squander as he took the set 6-4 in 43 minutes.

The second set took on a similar pattern as Gasquet dropped 4 points in a row again to lose serve in the very first game. The advantage was once again with the Spaniard and once again he consolidated with a solid hold. Remarkably, so similar was the pattern that once again in the fourth game, at 30-30 Gasquet hit a blistering backhand return to set up break point before a Nadal serve forehand one-two punch ended it. That’s where the similarity ended. A superb point by Gasquet ended with a remarkable backhand cross court gave him a second bite at the cherry and a long Nadal forehand allowed Gasquet to break back and level the set 2-2. Consolidating the break was now vital and Gasquet did exactly that with a mix of excellent volleying, big forehands and a service winner to finish it off. Gasquet was now rejuvenated and had against the run of play, turned it into a contest. Continuing the aggressive approach the Frenchman played some magnificent points highlighted by those glorious one handed backhands to create a brace of break points in the 8th game. Nadal’s response was impressive as he hit an ace and an unreturnable into the Gasquet body to wriggle out of the tight spot. Gasquet kept the pressure up and Nadal resisted as the set went to a tie break.

The tie break could not have started worse for Gasquet as he double faulted to fall behind immediately. It seemed that Nadal might have given him a reprieve when he sent a backhand sailing long, but Gasquet returned the compliment by dumping a volley into the net. Abandoning the aggressive approach that had served him so well upto then Gasquet reverted to being passive and Rafa pressed home the advantage to set up 5 set points at 6-1. Gasquet bookended a terrible breaker with another double fault to fall behind 2 sets to love. Gasquet had left himself with a mountain to climb if he were to advance and he made an already difficult task even more arduous as he lost serve early in the set for a third time. Nadal consolidated and continued to dominate the set and broke Gasquet for a second time to finish off the match 6-2 in the third. The win took Nadal to his third US Open final, remarkably all against Djokovic.

Final Scores:

N.Djokovic d S.Wawrinka 2-6, 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-3, 6-4

R.Nadal d R.Gasquet 6-4, 7-6(1), 6-2