Rafael Nadal celebrates after defeating Richard Gasquet in their men’s semifinal match at the U.S. Open tennis championships in New York on Saturday. (Reuters)
NEW YORK — Rafa Nadal comfortably dealt with France’s Richard Gasquet 6-4 7-6(1), 6-2, on Saturday to move into the final of the U.S. Open where he will face world number one Novak Djokovic.
After Djokovic needed five sets to deal with a determined Stanislas Wawrinka in the earlier semifinal, Nadal’s task seemed almost routine against an opponent he has now beaten in all 11 meetings between the pair.
Nadal swiftly broke Gasquet’s first serve of the match, when the Frenchman found the net and held his serve with relative ease to take the first set in 43 minutes.
But the second-seed was pushed hard by the astute Frenchman in the second set.
After Nadal again started by breaking Gasquet in the first game, the Frenchman fought back, breaking to go 2-2 and eventually forcing a tiebreak.
But that decider was a one-sided affair which Gasquet started and ended with a double-fault as Nadal ran out 7-1 winner.
Nadal then broke in the second game of the third, with a magnificent forehand down the line, set to take full command of the match which he secured when Gasquet ended the third set with two double faults on the final two points.
Djokovic survived a courageous challenge by Wawrinka with a 2-6 7-6(4) 3-6 6-3 6-4 victory that earned both players long ovations from the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd.
The Serb said he would grab some popcorn and recover on the couch from his four-hour tussle while watching the second semi-final between world number two Rafa Nadal and French eighth seed Richard Gasquet.
“These matches is what we live for, what we practice for,” Djokovic said after reaching his fourth successive U.S. Open final.
“All the credit to (Wawrinka) for being so aggressive and playing so well. I’m just fortunate to play my best tennis when I needed to.”
The tumultuous match, which included a warning for courtside coaching from Djokovic’s box, the mangling of a racket by a frustrated Wawrinka and a medical timeout for the Swiss for a strained thigh muscle, reached a crescendo in the fifth set.
With Wawrinka serving at 1-1, the combatants locked into a marathon duel that lasted 21 minutes, featuring some brilliant rallies and great shot-making in which the Swiss fought off five break points during 12 deuces and won on the 30th point with a service winner.
The marathon game earned the players several ovations in stirring tributes to their desire and skill.
But that Herculean effort seemed to sap the last bit of energy from the Swiss, who had left the court for treatment of a thigh strain during the changeover at 1-4.
Djokovic said he had to regroup after that epic game.
“Twenty-one minutes. Wow,” said the Serb. “I was thinking whoever wins this game is going to win the match. I told myself I was going to have to fight again.”
Djokovic held serve, then broke Wawrinka in the next game for a 3-2 lead and served out the match.
The battle was reminiscent of another classic, five-set struggle between the two in the round of 16 at this year’s Australian Open, won 12-10 in the fifth set by Djokovic.
This difficult defeat came in the Swiss player’s first appearance in a grand slam semi-final.
“It was a great tournament for me,” Wawrinka said. “Tough match, tough loss. I gave everything. I fought until the end. With this crowd, it was an amazing experience.”
Sunday, world number one Serena Williams will take on number two Victoria Azarenka for the women’s singles title in a rematch of last year’s championship tilt in Flushing Meadows.