Facing a set point in a tight tiebreaker in the U.S. Open quarterfinals Thursday night, Novak Djokovic kept dribbling the ball, bouncing it 28 times in all. Eventually, he tossed the ball overhead — and hit a fault. Djokovic cut his total to 13 bounces, hit a 113-mph second serve, and won the point, part of a 6-4, 7-6 (7), 6-1 victory over Carlos Moya to reach a third consecutive Grand Slam semifinal.
"This is just a matter of concentration. I'm trying to really focus and not irritate anybody. Sorry if I'm a bit annoying," Djokovic said. "The thing is, I want to stay longer on this court, so that's why I'm bouncing more and more."
Prodded by a TV interviewer, Djokovic stuck around after the match to treat the fans to two of his impressions of other players. First he did his take on Maria Sharapova, then Rafael Nadal — getting both exactly right, to loud laughs from the crowd. If you missed it, do a search for Djokovic's name on YouTube.
He does a marvelous impersonation of a top tennis player when it counts, too, as he's proved all season.
Unlike at the French Open, where he lost to No. 2 Nadal, and at Wimbledon, where he stopped because of an injury while losing to Nadal, Djokovic will finally face a different foe.
In Saturday's semifinals, he'll meet No. 15 David Ferrer — who just happens to be the man who ran Nadal ragged in the Open's fourth round. Ferrer reached his first major semifinal by beating No. 20 Juan Ignacio Chela 6-2, 6-3, 7-5 Thursday.
Top-ranked Roger Federer is in his record 14th Grand Slam semifinal in a row and plays No. 4 Nikolay Davydenko on Saturday. Federer is 9-0 against Davydenko, and hasn't fared too poorly against the semifinalists on the other side of the draw — he's 7-0 against Ferrer, 4-1 against Djokovic.
Djokovic's one victory over Federer came in their most recent meeting, in the final of a hard-court tournament in Montreal last month. It was at that event that Djokovic became the first man since 1994 to defeat men ranked Nos. 1-3 at the same tournament.
That counted as Djokovic's breakthrough moment. It also gave him four titles in 2007, and his 57 match wins through Thursday rank second only to Nadal.
Federer took Thursday off, skipping practice and resting, a day after improving to 14-1 against 2003 U.S. Open champion Andy Roddick by beating him in straight sets.
Venus Williams, though, was out on the practice courts in the late afternoon, preparing for her semifinal Friday against No. 1 Justine Henin. After eliminating Serena Williams in her previous match, Henin will try to become only the second woman to beat both sisters at the same Grand Slam tournament.
The other women's semifinal is 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova against No. 6 Anna Chakvetadze.
There was an all around more subdued vibe in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Thursday, a sort of hangover effect following up on Wednesday's electric atmosphere for the Federer-Roddick and Venus Williams-Jelena Jankovic matches.
It didn't help that Djokovic and Moya were hardly at their best, combining for only 16 winners and 30 unforced errors in the first set.
Djokovic, though, was just better enough throughout. In the tiebreaker, he erased Moya's set point, and then converted his second, bouncing the ball 23 times before hitting a 123 mph serve that set up a forehand winner.
Djokovic then broke to start the third set, and that was pretty much that against No. 17 seed Moya, a former No. 1 who won the 1998 French Open.
Against Chela, Ferrer kept up his surprising run — and it turns out he hasn't been eating as well as he's been playing. It was a far shorter and less taxing match than in the previous round, when Ferrer was on court until nearly 2 a.m. while stunning Nadal.
After that rousing victory, the biggest of his career, Ferrer had a hard time finding something for dinner. So he wound up eating a fast-food burger.
"Yeah, really, at 4:15, my coach and me walk into the McDonald's," Ferrer said.
He leads the ATP in most major returning categories, and he was up to his usual tricks against Chela, compiling 16 break points. That count already was up to 12 by the time Chela earned his first break chance on Ferrer's serve.
Chela converted it to take a 2-0 lead in the second set — then promptly got broken right back when he sailed a forehand wide.
"That," Chela acknowledged, "was my only real chance."
Before seeing off Nadal, Ferrer escaped a match point against 2002 Wimbledon runner-up David Nalbandian in the third round.
"The last three matches is my best tennis," Ferrer said. "For me, it's unbelievable."
After all, he noted, he grew up playing on clay.
And the hard courts used at the U.S. Open?
"It's not my surface," he said.
For the better part of two weeks, though, it has been.