Federer to face Djokovic in U.S. Open final; Henin wins women's title

By: HOWARD FENDRICH, AP Tennis Writer
By: HOWARD FENDRICH, AP Tennis Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- Roger Federer watched his opponent's last shot of their U.S. Open semifinal sail wide, then calmly walked to the net for a handshake.

He didn't drop to his knees, didn't thrust an index finger to the sky to declare, "I'm No. 1," didn't take off his shirt -- the sort of celebratory gestures Novak Djokovic came up with earlier Saturday upon reaching his first Grand Slam final.

You see, Federer does not get overly excited about semifinal victories, even at major tournaments. He's all about titles, and now he's one victory away from yet another: No. 4 at the U.S. Open, No. 12 overall at Slams.

Tested at the start and again late, the No. 1-seeded Federer worked his way past No. 4 Nikolay Davydenko 7-5, 6-1, 7-5 Saturday, stretching his winning streak at Flushing Meadows to 26 matches.

"I'm always very well-prepared for the majors. I know what it takes," Federer said. "When the second week comes around, I play my best."

In Sunday's championship match, Federer will face the only man to beat him over the past three months: Djokovic. The No. 3-seeded Serb had a harder time with the heat and humidity than with his foe but overcame all three to defeat No. 15 David Ferrer 6-4, 6-4, 6-3.

"I guess the best players of the summer are in the final," said Federer, all too aware that he lost to Djokovic at a hard-court event in Montreal in early August.

That was Djokovic's big breakthrough: He also beat Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick there, becoming the first man in 13 years to beat Nos. 1-3 in the rankings at a single tournament.

Later Saturday, No. 1 Justine Henin overwhelmed No. 4 Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-1, 6-3 for her second U.S. Open title and seventh Slam overall. Henin, who eliminated Serena Williams in the quarterfinals and Venus Williams in the semifinals, became the first player to knock off both sisters en route to a major championship.

The resumes of the men's finalists are vastly different, of course.

While Djokovic will be aiming for his first major title, Federer will be trying to tie Roy Emerson for second in tennis history behind Pete Sampras' 14.

There's more.

Sunday's match will be Federer's 10th consecutive Grand Slam final.

No one else in the history of tennis managed to make more than seven in a row.

And Federer will be trying to become the first man since Bill Tilden in the 1920s to win the American Slam four consecutive years.

Federer should consider himself warned, however: Djokovic wants to go home with the U.S. Open trophy, not just make another good impression.

"I need to believe in myself, because otherwise I wouldn't get the positive outcome," Djokovic said. "I don't want to go out tomorrow and try to do my best or try to perform well. No, I'll go tomorrow to try to win."

With the temperature approaching 90 degrees during his semifinal, Djokovic was too spent afterward to reprise the sort of act he performed after winning in the quarterfinals, when he drew guffaws by doing spot-on imitations of Maria Sharapova and Nadal.

"Last two days, the people were more congratulating me for the impressions than for my tennis," Djokovic said. "I was wondering, 'Guys, am I here for the impersonation, entertaining -- or to play tennis?"'

Well, possibly both, but certainly the latter. The 20-year-old Djokovic is the youngest men's finalist at Flushing Meadows since Pete Sampras was 19 when he won the 1990 title. Djokovic is also the first man from Serbia to get to a major final.

There were moments early on when it looked as if Djokovic might actually face Davydenko, who was 0-9 against Federer in their previous meetings but began brilliantly Saturday.

Davydenko -- who expects to be questioned soon in connection with an ATP gambling probe -- won the coin toss and elected to receive at the start, a rare sight.

Clearly, Davydenko knew what he was doing: He came in having won 50 percent of his return games during the U.S. Open, and he promptly broke Federer to begin the match.

Federer was broken a total of two times through five matches -- and then five times by Davydenko, whose sneakers squeaked loudly as he used a lot of little steps to scoot around the court.

In the opening set, 10 points lasted at least 10 strokes -- and Davydenko won seven.

Federer looked, well, mediocre, as Davydenko went ahead 3-1. The heavy underdog then was one point away from going up 4-1, but Federer saved a break point by ending an 11-stroke exchange with a backhand winner down the line.

Federer converted his fifth break point to even things at 3-all, getting back a 126 mph serve -- Davydenko's fastest of the day -- and then smacking a forehand winner.

When Federer served for the first set at 5-3, though, Davydenko stood his ground, saving one set point with a return winner, then breaking with a cross-court forehand.

They appeared headed to a tiebreaker, but Federer broke back to end the set with an angled forehand volley. It was the first set lost by Davydenko all tournament -- and, unfortunately for him, it wouldn't be the last.

In the third set, Davydenko twice held a set point but couldn't convert either, and as Federer won the last four games, he began punctuating shots with shouts of "Yes!" or "Come on!" when winners left his racket.

It all left Davydenko in a daze, and he said: "I don't know how it's possible," for Federer to come up with some of those strokes.

Ferrer ran Nadal ragged while upsetting him in the fourth round, but Djokovic seemed more bothered by the weather, seeking treatment from a doctor, draping a towel filled with ice around his neck, and donning a white baseball cap for shade.

"The conditions were extreme," Djokovic said. "It was so hot."

When the match ended with a beautiful volley by Djokovic, he dropped to his knees with arms raised, then got up and pulled off his shirt.

A sign of his exhaustion: Djokovic tried throwing the shirt into the stands, but it didn't quite reach the seats. Then he picked it up and heaved it again, underhanded, and this time was successful. In the player's guest box, Djokovic's dad followed suit, pulling off his shirt and encouraging others nearby to do the same.

It was Djokovic's fluid play that frustrated Ferrer.

After losing a point, the Spaniard kicked an on-court clock with full force, temporarily breaking the digital display. It was stuck on "0:50" for about 10 minutes.

So Ferrer managed to stop time.

He couldn't do a thing about stopping Djokovic.

Now it's Federer's turn to try.


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