NEW YORK (Reuters) - After almost two weeks of action, Novak Djokovic and Mikhail Youzhny are all that stand in the way of an ultimate grand slam final showdown between the world’s two best players, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal.
The pair have already played each other in the finals of three of the four majors and while the U.S. Open remains the odd one out, that anomaly will be erased if they both win their semi-finals on Saturday.
If history and current form is anything to go by, the top two seeds should advance but neither player is guaranteed an easy ride. Their opponents are dangerous and willing to spoil the prospects of a dream final.
“I’m ready to be bad person. I love to be bad person in this case,” said Youzhny, who is drawn to play Nadal.
Djokovic is not in a charitable mood either. The Serbian was beaten by Federer in the 2007 U.S. Open final and the semi-finals in the subsequent two years. The thought of losing to him again this weekend holds no appeal to the world number three.
“I’m sure that the crowd wants them in the finals but I will try to not make that happen,” Djokovic said.
Federer has already achieved his life’s ambition by winning all four majors and breaking Pete Sampras’ record for grand slam titles but the Swiss shows no signs of wanting to stop adding to his collection of 16.
The 29-year-old has been involved in each of the last six finals of the U.S. Open, winning the first five before his shock loss to Juan Martin del Potro last year, but is playing as well as ever this time.
The second seed has not dropped a set in the tournament and battled his way through scorching summer heat and gale force winds with a minimum of fuss.
He has won 10 of his previous 15 meetings with Djokovic, including their most recent meeting in Toronto last month, but remains wary of his opponent.
“He is one of the best players in the game right now, especially on this surface,” Federer said. “That’s why he’s been able to play consistent here at the Open. He’s obviously waiting for a breakthrough where he can win this title.”
After a slow start to the tournament, when he was pushed to five sets in his opening match, Djokovic has been steadily gaining momentum and content to play the role of underdog.
“I like playing under the radar sometimes. It releases the pressure on myself,” he said.
The only reason Federer has never played Nadal in the U.S. Open before is because the Spaniard has never made that far.
He reached the semi-finals in each of the past two seasons but the wear and tear of playing on hardcourts proved too much and he lost both times.
However, the 24-year-old lefthander is playing much better this year, running less and serving faster than ever.
Like Federer, he has sailed through to the semis without dropping a set and says he has learnt his lesson after losing to Youzhny here before.
“It was a painful match for me,” Nadal said. “During the tournament I was playing better and better but I think I lost that match because I was too anxious.”
Youzhny, seeded 12th, has done it the hard way, winning just one of his first five matches in straight sets. His quarter-final against Stanislas Wawrinka went to a fifth and lasted four hours.
But the Russian is not without any hope. He was a semi-finalist at the U.S. Open four years ago and has won four of his previous 11 meetings with Nadal, including their only previous clash at the U.S. Open, in 2006.
“It’s another time and other opponent, so anything can happen,” Youzhny said.
Editing by John O'Brien