Nadal reaches first Flushing final, waits to see if Federer will join him

By Eddie Pells, AP
Saturday, September 11, 2010

Nadal reaches first US Open final

NEW YORK — Rafa made it. Then he had to wait to see if Roger would join him.

Top-seeded Rafael Nadal blew past No. 12 Mikhail Youzhny 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 on Saturday to reach his first U.S. Open final and set up the first half of his sport’s dream matchup — Nadal vs. Roger Federer for a Grand Slam title.

Nadal is 5-2 against Federer in Grand Slam finals, but they have never met in Flushing Meadows, where Federer — who played No. 3 Novak Djokovic in the second semifinal — has five championships but Nadal had never even reached the final.

Until now.

“Well, it’s another step, I think, in my career, so for sure it’s 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.”

Looking to complete the career Grand Slam, Nadal did, indeed, arrive at the U.S. Open as fresh mentally and physically as he’s ever been. He also came with a serve that’s been either revamped or tweaked — or something in between — and it has made a difference, allowing more easy points for tennis’ ultimate grinder. Nadal won 13 of his 14 service games against Youzhny and, through six matches, has been broken only twice in 91 games.

He still hasn’t lost a set, either, and Youzhny barely pressed him.

“Tough to say who is better than Rafa,” Youzhny said. “I mean, he’s No. 1 and he played really good tennis.”

The Russian, playing in his second career Grand Slam semifinal, was coming off a 4½-hour, five-set win over Stanislas Wawrinka in the quarterfinals. He came in with a respectable 4-7 record against Nadal, but from the beginning of this meeting, he never looked like he had the energy to position himself for an upset.

“I cannot say I’m really tired, but, yeah, was not fast enough today,” Youzhny said. “I mean, my decision was not really fast. I mean, I was moving well, but my head was one step back of my hand and my legs.”

There was a brief delay midway through the second set while Nadal had his left foot retaped. A slight opening? Well, no. Nadal came out and held the next service game at love, then pinned Youzhny deep, forcing the Russian to hit a forehand long on break point to make it 5-3. He said the new tape job was no big deal.

Nadal and Youzhny played on a day where the flag above Arthur Ashe Stadium flew at half-staff on the nine-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks across the river in Manhattan and in Washington. In his post-match interview on court, Nadal expressed his “support for the victims of 9/11 and their families.”

“This is a very special day for everybody,” he said.

On a day when the wind that has plagued the tournament finally eased up, Youzhny got his single break of serve to pull to 4-4 in the third set. Just as quickly, Nadal broke back, then served it out for the win and found himself one victory from becoming the seventh man to round out a collection of major championships. He has eight so far: five at the French, two at Wimbledon and one at the Australian in 2009, where he beat Federer in five sets — the last time they met in a Grand Slam.

Nadal is seeking to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win the French, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the same year. He is not, however, in the mood to start talking about his place in history. He thinks Federer, who has double the number of Grand Slams as he does, is still the best.

“The best of the history that I’ve ever seen,” Nadal said. “I don’t know Rod Laver, how it was in the past, because I wasn’t in this world.”

Federer sought to make his seventh straight U.S. Open final and brought a 10-5 career record against Djokovic into their semifinal, including a straight-set win in last year’s semis.

Federer also advanced to the semifinals without losing a set.

After the Federer-Djokovic match, No. 7 Vera Zvonareva was scheduled to play No. 2 Kim Clijsters in the women’s final, with Clijsters going for back-to-back titles.

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