Flushing Meadows, NY – For the third time in four years, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will play for the title at the U.S. Open.
Djokovic needed to survive a five-set marathon to reach his fourth consecutive U.S. Open final, while Nadal prevailed in straight sets in Saturday's semis.
The top-seeded Djokovic twice battled back from a set down to beat Stanislas Wawrinka, 2-6, 7-6 (7-4), 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a bout that lasted four hours and nine minutes at Ashe Stadium. Nadal had his serve broken for the first time in nearly a month, but the second seed posted a 6-4, 7-6 (7-1), 6-2 win over Richard Gasquet.
Djokovic and Nadal will square off Monday, with both seeking a second title at the year's final major. Djokovic topped Nadal to claim the crown in 2011, avenging a loss to the Spaniard a year earlier. Djokovic lost to Andy Murray in the 2012 championship match.
The 26-year-old Djokovic was broken three times and committed four double faults along with 14 unforced errors in a forgettable opening set for the Serbian, who had been broken just five times through the quarterfinals.
The ninth-seeded Wawrinka consolidated a fourth break with a relatively easy hold to go up 4-2 in the second set, but Djokovic broke back in the eighth game to level the set before prevailing in a tiebreak.
The combatants remained on serve in the third set until a Djokovic forehand into the net gave Wawrinka a break at love and a 5-3 lead. The 28-year-old Swiss, playing in his first Grand Slam semifinal, then held to close out the set, but Djokovic earned a break on a double fault while racing out to a 4-1 lead in the fourth set, which ended with a Djokovic ace.
The third game of the fifth set was epic, featuring 12 deuces, and Wawrinka wound up holding for a 2-1 lead after saving five break points.
Djokovic, however, was able to break Wawrinka's serve in the fifth game to go up 4-2, and the six-time Grand Slam champion finished things off with another ace.
The two are no strangers to playing long matches against each other. Djokovic needed five hours and two minutes to post a five-set victory over Wawrinka in the fourth round of this year's Australian Open.
"I think that is completely different match than the match we play in the Australian Open," said Wawrinka, who revealed after the match that he felt some discomfort in his right leg at the end of the third set. "In the Australian Open, I had to play my best game to stay with him. Today I had the feeling when I was still fit, when I was still healthy, I had the match in control. I think I was playing better than him. I was doing much more things than him."
Djokovic improved his record in the head-to-head series to 13-2 with his 12th straight win over Wawrinka, who remains winless in 13 lifetime meetings when facing the world's top player. Djokovic will retain his No. 1 ranking by reaching the final.
Nadal could have reclaimed the top spot in the rankings with a successful title run coupled with Djokovic stumbling Saturday.
The 12-time Grand Slam champion Nadal broke the eighth-seeded Gasquet's serve to open each of the first two sets.
Gasquet, who was appearing in his second semifinal at a major and first since Wimbledon in 2007, broke back to tie the second set at 2-2. Nadal had held on 88 straight service games, going back to the semifinals at Cincinnati on Aug. 17.
The match ended on a double fault by Gasquet, who fell to 0-11 against Nadal.
Nadal will be participating in his 18th Grand Slam final, tying Pete Sampras for third place on the all-time list. Djokovic advanced to his 12th.
Nadal improved to a career-best 21-0 on hard courts this season and 59-3 overall. He has now reached the final in 12 of 13 tournaments and is seeking a 10th title in 2013.
Djokovic handed Nadal one of his rare losses this year, but still trails 21-15 in the head-to-head series.
"Well, it's always the biggest challenge that you can have in our sport now," Djokovic said about facing Nadal. "I mean, he's the ultimate competitor out there. He's fighting for every ball and he's playing probably the best tennis that he ever played on hard courts."