The tennis world had been anticipating a Rafael Nadal-Roger Federer final since the U.S. Open draw was posted at the beginning of the fortnight. World No. 1 versus No. 2 and a chance for both men to make history. Nobody really counted on Novak Djokovic to spoil the party.
Djokovic is not new to Grand Slam finals. He lost in the 2007 U.S. Open final to Federer, but came back a few short months later at the 2008 Australian Open to defeat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga for his first Grand Slam title.
Since winning that lone Grand Slam title in Australia, Djokovic has not advanced past the semifinals – until now. Ironically, Djokovic met Federer at the U.S. Open four years in a row starting in 2007, and has lost to Federer each of those years until the 2010 semifinal.
Slowed by injury, illness and allergies, Djokovic has not been at his best consistently over the years. He retired in the 2007 Wimbledon semifinal against Nadal with foot problems, and again in the 2009 Australian quarterfinal against Andy Roddick, when he pulled out due to heat exhaustion and cramps. Djokovic also struggled with illness before, during and after the 2010 Australian quarterfinal match against Tsonga, losing 1-6 in the fifth.
Rafa is now waiting for Nole in this year's U.S. Open final. It is Nadal's chance for history, needing the win to complete a career Grand Slam. Rafa has the edge 14-7 lifetime over Nole, but interestingly enough, Djokovic leads head-to-head on hard courts 7-3 and has won their last three meetings in straight sets. That statistic could weigh heavily on the mind of Rafa.
Djokovic has to recover quickly to be competitive in the final against a fresher Nadal. He also needs to continue dictating with his forehand as he did against Federer and play without fear when it counts. Look for Rafa to use his improved serve to win some free points and move Djokovic around the baseline with his trademark heavy ground strokes.
It's a disappointing day when Rodger Federer blows two match points in a Grand Slam semifinal. He will be thinking long and hard about that during the off season. However, saving those two match points should help Djokovic gain even more confidence for his meeting with Nadal. It should be interesting an interesting match.