Novak Djokovic spoiled the party at the US Open last night as he beat five-times champion Roger Federer in a five-set classic, denying fans a spot of history but ensuring himself a fully deserved place in the final for the second time in his career with a brilliant 5-7 6-1 5-7 6-2 7-5 victory.
When Federer stood at 5-4 and 40-15 up on Djokovic's serve in the deciding set, he was on the verge of a clash with Rafael Nadal, the first time in history that two men would have played one another in each of the four grand slam finals in their careers. But Djokovic had not read the script and produced some scintillating tennis to save both match points, break Federer in the next game and then save a break point to serve out for one of the biggest victories of his life.
It remains to be seen how much last night's efforts will have taken out of Djokovic but for now he won't care. It was a brilliant win. The Serbian will have had less than 24 hours to recover by the time he takes to the court against Nadal, the fittest player on tour and a man who has still not dropped a set here.
While Djokovic and Federer slugged it out as the sun went down behind Arthur Ashe Stadium, the Spaniard had his feet up, doubtless delighted that he had got the job done with the minimum of fuss.
Djokovic has rarely played better. The 23-year-old Serbian, whose only grand slam title to date came at the Australian Open in 2008, produced his most consistent, mentally strong performance in a long time as he matched Federer in all departments of the game. His returns were working beautifully, his groundstrokes finding the corners and he might even have won in straight sets.
Federer came back from 4-2 down to snatch the first set, breaking in the 11th game and serving out flawlessly. The Swiss was the aggressor, coming to the net when he could, but at the start of the second set he dropped his serve and Djokovic sensed his chance, breaking twice to level the match.
Djokovic's serve, which has caused him a lot of problems over the past year, was in a nice groove while Federer had to rely on his all-court game to get the job done. Games went with serve in the third set to 5-5 but after Federer held to stay ahead, Djokovic banged his racket strings on his head three times and then played a nervy game to hand the No 2 seed the set.
Again, though, Djokovic refused to give in, firing a brilliant backhand pass to break in the third game and then breaking again two games later on his way to levelling the match for a second time.
Neither man had a sniff on the other's serve in the fifth set until the seventh game, when a tired-looking Federer was forced to four deuces on as Djokovic threw everything at him.
At 4-5, two wild backhands from Djokovic gave Federer two match points but he saved them both, first with a brilliant drive volley and then a stunning forehand winner. His tail up, he then held serve, broke Federer in the very next game and saved a break point to serve out for the match.
Earlier, Nadal enjoyed a far easier passage into the final as he ended Mikhail Youzhny's hopes with an utterly ruthless display. "Having a three-set match and playing for just over two hours is always great," Nadal said. "I am going to be in perfect condition tomorrow, so that's very positive. For me it's a dream to be in the final here for the first time. I tried to be aggressive and my serve has been working well. Maybe he was a little bit more tired than me today."
The only time Youzhny might have harboured a slight hope of denying the world No 1 and reaching his first grand slam final came when the Spaniard had his left ankle retaped and complained of a painful blister on his big toe, when leading by a set and 3-2. Nadal moved gingerly but the fight in Youzhny disappeared when Nadal raced around the court to break serve two games later, then served out the second set with ease.
A wild forehand into the tramlines handed him a 2-1 lead in the third set but Youzhny lifted himself for one final effort and broke back to level at 4-4. But a couple of wasteful points in the next game allowed Nadal to break and he served out with ease, then celebrated extravagantly.
Britain's Oliver Golding was beaten in the final of the junior boys' doubles . Golding and his Czech partner Jiri Vesely, the fourth seeds, lost 6-1 7-5 to third seeds Duilio Beretta and Roberto Quiroz.