MASON, Ohio – No medal involved this time. Little drama, either. Novak Djokovic simply ground his way to another title shot.
And Roger Federer will be waiting for him.
Djokovic reached the finals of the Western & Southern Open for the second straight year Saturday, beating Juan Martin del Potro 6-3, 6-2 in a reprise of their meeting in the Olympics. Del Potro defeated Djokovic for the bronze medal on Wimbledon's lush grass two weeks ago.
The sequel on a hard court? Not even close.
The final will match the world's top two players, the first time that's happened in Cincinnati. If Federer wins, it'll give him a record five titles in the tournament.
"It's a nice bonus, really," Federer said. "When I was a kid I wasn't thinking of winning five Cincinnatis, but then again here I am in this great situation being able to do it, the first man ever. So I'm obviously excited. Very often when I do now reach a finals there is something on the line. Here we go — there is something there."
Top-ranked Federer beat Swiss countryman Stanislas Wawrinka 7-6 (4), 6-3 in the other semifinal. It'll be the seventh time that Federer and Djokovic have played for a tournament title, the last time in 2011 at Dubai. Federer beat Djokovic for the Cincinnati title in 2009.
Federer leads the career series 15-12, but it's taken a few interesting turns lately. Djokovic beat him in the semifinals at the U.S. Open last year, then again in the semis at Rome and the French Open. Federer got the upper hand again in the semifinals at Wimbledon.
"I hope I'm fresher than him tomorrow," Federer said. "We'll see how it goes."
Djokovic also reached the Cincinnati final last year but had to quit in the second set because of a sore shoulder, giving the title to Andy Murray.
This week is going much better for him.
He won the Rogers Cup in Toronto last Sunday night, leaving him a little tired, but he managed to get some rest at the suburban Cincinnati tournament. He was on court for only a half-hour Thursday night, when Nikolay Davydenko had to quit their match because of a sore shoulder.
The Serb had played only three sets the last two days, leaving plenty of energy for his second semifinal in eight days.
He used it in the long rallies.
Djokovic and del Potro exchanged a lot of shots from the baseline in the first set, with both players wasting chances to take control early. Djokovic got to the semifinal by holding serve in all 22 games during the tournament, facing only four break points. He faced that many in the third game of the match.
The Serb saved one of those break points with a 30-shot rally that ended with del Potro dumping a backhand into the net, then dropping his head.
"We played long rallies," Djokovic said. "It could have easily gone the other way. I managed to hang in there and play my best when I needed it."
One of del Potro's biggest concerns is his left wrist, which has nagged him for some time. The right-hander will have it checked before the U.S. Open by the same doctor who operated on his right wrist in 2010, when he missed most of the season while recovering.
During the first set, del Potro looked at his left wrist and shook it after a tough backhand shot, an indication those long rallies were stinging.
"Yeah, it's bothering me all the time and I don't want to risk too much," del Potro said. "I have experience in wrist problems, and I would like to take time to fix this little problem."
Djokovic broke him to go up 4-2 and served it out. He broke him again for a 2-1 lead in the second set, when del Potro seemed to lose his edge.
At one point, he thought about quitting because of the painful wrist.
"I'm playing well, even this match," he said. "And the crowd here is very nice. It was full today, and I didn't retire because Djokovic is my friend and I have a lot respect of him and I want to finish the match."
The men's draw in Cincinnati took a hit this year when Rafael Nadal had to withdraw because of a sore knee. Nadal hasn't played since Wimbledon and has already pulled out of the U.S. Open because of the injury.
Federer's semifinal win set up a memorable finish.
He skipped the Rogers Cup, resting up after the Olympics. He hasn't lost a set all week, making quick work of his opponents — until Saturday.
By every measure, Wawrinka was overmatched. He came in 1-10 in his career against Federer, including 0-7 on hard courts. He'd lost his last eight matches against the Swiss star, dropping 19 of 20 sets.
More bad history: Wawrinka came into the match 0-9 against players currently No. 1, losing all 19 sets against Federer, Nadal and Djokovic when they were at the top of the rankings.
He nearly had a breakthrough Saturday, fighting off five set points to take the opener to a tiebreaker. Federer pulled it out, taking advantage of a couple of backhand shots into the net by Wawrinka. The first set lasted 58 minutes.
That was Wawrinka's best chance.