Novak Djokovic tore up the script at the US Open on Sunday defeating Roger Federer in a pulsating semi-final to torpedo hopes for a dream final between the Swiss star and Rafael Nadal.
The Serb third seed saved two fifth-set match points before producing a final flourish to hand a crushing defeat to five-time former winner Federer 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5.
Top seed Nadal had earlier won through to his first US Open final in starkly contrasting style, coasting past Russian 12th seed Mikhail Youzhny 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.
The Federer-Djokovic match was the best yet in the tournament, swinging one way and then the other twice before it came down to who could find another gear at the culmination of the fifth set.
Federer had reached the last six finals at Flushing Meadows, winning five of them until he lost to Juan Martin del Potro last year. He had two match points on the Djokovic serve at 5-4 but could not take them.
Djokovic then broke Federer in the next game and he held his nerve to serve out for his first win over the 16-time Grand Slam winner at the US Open, having lost to him in the 2007 final and the semi-finals in 2008 and 2009.
Federer, who won the Australian Open this year, but went out in the quarter-finals at the French Open and at Wimbledon, said that it had been a tough loss.
“Can’t turn back time, but obviously he had to come up with a couple of good shots on match point, so I don’t feel I have that many regrets in that regard,” he said.
“Obviously you feel like you left something out there if you lose the match having had match point.
“But it wasn’t the final, so I’m not as disappointed it would have been the final. That’s the only positive news to enjoy anything out of it.”
Djokovic, whose single Grand Slam title to date came at the 2008 Australian Open, when he also beat Federer in the semi-finals, said that it had been a match he would remember for the rest of his life.
“Not just because I won against one of the best players that ever played this game at that occasion, but as well coming back from match points down and under the circumstances playing good tennis and winning in the end, the thriller, you know.
“I am very proud of myself. There are a lot of emotions involved. Of course I was too exhausted to show them in the end. But it has been a fantastic semi-final.”
Nadal’s win over Youzhny was a one-sided affair, with the Spaniard too powerful and confident against an opponent who had needed to battle through a long five-setter just to reach the last four.
The French Open and Wimbledon champion powered into the final without losing a set and he has dropped his serve only twice in six games.
“It’s another step I think in my career, so for sure is a very important victory for me,” Nadal said.
“To be in the final of the last Grand Slam of the year is something new, because I always arrived here with problems.”
Speaking before the second semi-final had started, Nadal said that Djokovic would be a tough opponent in the final.
“He’s a very difficult opponent for me, especially I had a lot of loses against him in this kind of surface,” he said.
“I have victories, too, but I have loses. So he’s a great player. I think he deserve to be in that final, too, because it’s the fourth time that he’s in that situation.”
The two finalists have played each other 21 times in the last four years, but never at the US Open.
Nadal leads the series 14-7, the same win-loss record he has against Federer, but their final on Sunday will be the first time they have played this year.
Djokovic said that he had given it all he had against Federer, but said he would be ready to take on Nadal despite having just a day to recover.
“But definitely I will have to do a lot of recovery because it’s been an exhausting match. I have to be ready in less than 20 hours,” he said.