NEW YORK – The weather was much better at the U.S. Open on Sunday. So was Novak Djokovic.
Under a cloudless blue sky, in only a hint of wind, defending champion Djokovic got his game into high gear and reached his third consecutive final at Flushing Meadows by beating fourth-seeded David Ferrer of Spain 2-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 in a match suspended a day earlier.
Ferrer led a shaky Djokovic 5-2 in the semifinal’s opening set Saturday, when wind was whipping at more than 20 mph and play was halted because of an impending rainstorm. When they resumed about 18 hours later, Ferrer held serve to take that set – and then Djokovic quickly took control, using the brand of defense-to-offense baseline excellence that has carried the Serb to four of the past seven Grand Slam titles.
“We were all praying for less wind today,” Djokovic said. “He handled the wind much better than I did. I came into today as a different player.”
In Monday’s final, Djokovic will face Olympic champion Andy Murray, who beat Tomas Berdych 5-7, 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 (7) on Saturday. It’s the fifth consecutive year the U.S. Open men’s title match has been played a day later than planned.
The women’s final between Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka that was supposed to be played Saturday night was shifted to Sunday afternoon, the fourth time since 2008 the women’s event went long, too.
Murray was able to enjoy a day off Sunday, while Djokovic had to put in some work. But in the end, it wasn’t too taxing: Djokovic played only about two hours and was finished with Ferrer by 1:20 p.m., giving him more than 24 hours to rest before taking on Murray.
Murray is one of only two men to lose each of his first four major finals – his coach, Ivan Lendl, is the other – and he’ll try to avoid dropping to 0-5. He’ll also try to become the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win any of tennis’ four most important tournaments.
“I don’t think there’s any clear favorite,” said five-time major champion Djokovic, who leads the head-to-head series against Murray 8-6 but lost their most recent matchup in the semifinals of the London Games. “He’s looking for his first Grand Slam title. I’m sure he’s going to be very motivated, and hopefully we can come up with our best tennis for this crowd.”
Djokovic extended his winning streak in Grand Slam matches played on hard courts to 27, including titles at last year’s U.S. Open and the Australian Open in 2011 and 2012. He slides along the surface as though it were red clay, allowing him to use his elastic limbs to contort and stretch to get to opponents’ shots that appear to be winners.
Over and over and over again Sunday, Djokovic would prolong points until he could gain an advantage or Ferrer would flub a groundstroke. After ending one 25-stroke exchange by snapping off a cross-court backhand winner while serving out the second set, Djokovic bellowed and spread his arms wide, holding a pose, as his parents rose to their feet in his guest box.
By late in the third set, when Djokovic took 12 of 14 points to go from a 3-2 deficit to 5-3 lead, Ferrer was muttering to himself and in the direction of his coach in the stands, the very picture of frustration.
The loss dropped Ferrer to 0-4 in Grand Slam semifinals, with another of those defeats also coming against Djokovic at the U.S. Open, back in 2007.
Djokovic was playing in his 10th consecutive Grand Slam semifinal, equaling Rod Laver and Lendl for the second-longest streak behind Roger Federer’s record of 23.
And after dropping that first set of this semifinal – the only set he’s lost all tournament – Djokovic immediately began turning things around, breaking Ferrer twice in a row en route to a 5-0 lead in the second. In the third, Ferrer made a little charge, taking three games in a row to briefly lead that set.
But the difficulty that dealing with Djokovic presents began to wear on Ferrer. He would rush shots, trying to sneak balls past Djokovic, and that simply was not going to work on this day. Ferrer made three unforced errors to get broken and fall behind 4-3 in the key third set, and when Djokovic eventually served it out with a 123 mph ace, their match pretty much was over.
In earning his tour-leading 60th match win of 2012, Djokovic also moved a step closer to being able to say he’s had the best season. Yes, he will stay at No. 2 in the rankings behind Wimbledon champion Federer, but Djokovic is the only man with a chance to claim two Grand Slam trophies this year, after grabbing three in 2011.