Djokovic challenges the elite

Third time lucky as Serbia's latest rising star reaches first Grand Slam final
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The Independent Online

Novak Djokovic has threatened all summer to break the stranglehold exerted by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the top of the men's game and the 20-year-old Serb confirmed here yesterday that the fight for the game's major honours has now become a three-way battle. Djokovic reached his first Grand Slam final when he beat Spain's David Ferrer 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 in the semi-finals of the US Open with the brand of dynamic tennis that has become his trademark.

Having fallen at the semi-final stage of the last two Grand Slam tournaments – Djokovic lost in straight sets to Nadal at the French Open and handed victory to the Spaniard at Wimbledon when he was forced to retire with blisters on both feet – the world No 3 made no mistake this time. He becomes the first Serbian man to reach a Grand Slam final in the Open era, and the second player from his homeland to reach a major final this year following Ana Ivanovic at the French Open. Federer, who lost to Djokovic in Montreal last month, was playing Nikolay Davydenko later last night for the right to face him in today's final.

Djokovic's Wimbledon chances were damaged by the constant rain interruptions, which left him having to play every day in the second week, and, for a while, the weather threatened his progress here. It has been a gloriously sunny fortnight in New York, but the heat has troubled a number of players. Djokovic twice sent for medical assistance and spent the changeovers with iced towels draped around his neck.

With the temperature rising above 30C and the humidity climbing, the conditions clearly suited a man brought up on the Costa Blanca rather than in the mountains of Serbia, but Ferrer never found the form that had seen the 25-year-old world No 15 account for Nadal and David Nalbandian in previous rounds.

Djokovic, who will be the youngest US Open finalist since 19-year-old Pete Sampras won the title 17 years ago, served with great power and consistency and had Ferrer scrambling to all corners with his thumping ground strokes. His forehand in particular is an awesome weapon, but there is also plenty of finesse in the Serb's game. The speedy Ferrer can chase down most drop shots, but he was regularly beaten by Djokovic's disguise and delicate touch.

Nevertheless the world No 3 had looked heavy-legged at the start, a legacy of some exhausting matches here, and after Ferrer had a break point against him in the opening game the Spaniard won 11 of the next 12 points to streak into a 3-0 lead. From 1-4 down, however, Djokovic sprang to life and embarked on a damaging run of his own, winning 12 points in succession to level at 4-4. Another break in the next game put the Serb in front for the first time and he rounded off the set in majestic fashion, crashing a forehand into a corner and following up with a firm drive volley.

Djokovic broke again at the start of the second set, but he was becoming increasingly troubled by the heat and after the third game sought medical advice, complaining of exhaustion and a headache. The sight of the Serb taking medication seemed to give encouragement to Ferrer, who broke back immediately but, just as Djokovic seemed to be succumbing to the conditions, the Spaniard played a loose service game to let his opponent back in.

Ferrer, perhaps sensing that his big chance had passed him by, hurled his racket to the floor in disgust and Djokovic served out to take what had been a gruelling 62-minute set. An early break in the third set underlined his superiority and he clinched the match in style, putting away a backhand volley behind a smart forehand approach.

"I was really nervous at the start," Djokovic said afterwards. "I'd had a lot of difficult matches and spent a lot of hours on the court. I didn't have a lot of energy and he took his chances. The conditions were extreme. It was so hot."