US Open 2015: Roger Federer races past Wawrinka to pick up the Djokovic gauntlet

Roger Federer beats Stan Wawrinka to set up a US Open final clash with Novak Djokovic in New York

There had been, not three hours before, the deafening sound of jaws dropping to the floor after world No1 Novak Djokovic tore through defending champion Marin Cilic as though he was some tennis-club rookie. It took him an hour and 25 minutes, and cost him just three games.

If ever there was the sound of a gauntlet being thrown down, this was it—and Roger Federer heard the call.

His semi-final against compatriot and No5 seed Stan Wawrinka was keenly anticipated. For while the French Open champion had beaten Federer in straight sets at Roland Garros, their last three hard-court matches had gone the distance and gone to Federer, most recently in a thrilling semi-final tussle at the World Tour Finals, where Wawrinka had match points before losing the final-set tie-breaker.

Wawrinka, too, was improving with every round, finally seeing off the in-form Kevin Anderson 6-0 in the third set in the quarters.

However it was not Wawrinka’s results and form that were making the headlines in New York but those of his friend and rival. Since that French Open meeting, Federer had won the Halle title, made a final run at Wimbledon, and taken the title in Cincinnati.

And this fortnight, Federer had gone through his opponents like a hot knife through butter, despite playing no-one ranked lower than 33. Whatever the style of play, from the all-court craft of Philipp Kohlschreiber, to the huge-serving of John Isner, and back to the flair of Richard Gasquet, Federer had dropped serve only twice and lost not a set. So strong was his serving, indeed, that he had won 116 out of 118 service games through the US Open Series.

He had five titles from eight finals, and notched up 50 match-wins in reaching a record 38th Grand Slam semi-final. The five-time US Open champion now targeted his first final in New York since losing to Juan Martin del Potro in 2009.

In the early stages, it looked as though an aggressive Wawrinka would become only the second man to break Federer in the tournament, but he failed to convert his chance in the second game, and the No2 seed replied in kind with two explosive attacks on the Wawrinka serve to break in the third game.

The set was far from one-sided, though, as Wawrinka brought up 40-0 against his rival’s serve in the sixth game. And here, in one single game, the story of the match would be writ large.

Federer made five straight winning plays, sealing the game with an ace, to extinguish Wawrinka’s chance, and served out the set, 6-4.

The younger Swiss—Wawrinka is 30 to Federer’s 34—had struggled with his first serve in the opening set, but improved in the second. Yet still he came under immediate pressure in the first game, and then faced 0-40 in the fifth after Federer fired a blistering forehand winner down the line. Wawrinka reeled the score in to deuce, fought off another break point, and held through a quick-fire exchange at the net as each tried to dominate the front of the court.

Wawrinka, though, was up against it, the more so because Federer’s serve was now in a perfect groove. The No2 seed would drop just two points in 18 serves for the set, and his hyper-aggressive tactics earned him seven winners out of seven at the net. Add into the equation some outstanding defence, and Federer got the break, to love, in the seventh game.

Federer rode his momentum to another love break and a 6-3 set, swamping the net and totting up 16 winners to just three errors.

The live commentary began to talk of ‘the zone’, and Federer was in it. But could he maintain such a level in the third set? It seemed so. With such a lead, he was able to flow with confidence, broke in the fourth and sixth games, and served out the match, 6-1, with his 10th ace, after just an hour and 32 minutes.

Yes, the final challenge had been accepted, and Djokovic would almost certainly have noted the statistics along the way: 22 points won from 28 at the net, 10 aces, almost twice as many winners as errors. And Federer’s 52 games lost on the way to this his 27th Major final tied the fewest he had dropped en route to all his previous Grand Slam finals.

So from 128 men and 32 seeds, the cream has once again risen to the top, and the final will be the latest instalment in what has become one of the finest rivalries this decade. Federer and Djokovic have played 41 times before, and since the start of 2007, have never met before the semi-finals.

Five of their matches have been at the US Open, with Djokovic winning the last two, both five-setters won 7-5 in the fifth. But over the last two years, they have split wins six apiece, and Federer has been the only man to beat Djokovic twice this season—both times on hard courts.

It goes without saying that both relish the chance to lift the trophy after falling short for a number of years.

Federer: “I’m very happy, it’s been a great tournament so far. I tried very hard in the last six years to get to another final, I came close a few times, and tonight it worked.

“I’m serving very well, playing positive tennis. I am going for my shots and I’d love [everything] to work just one more time this year.”

Djokovic: “I haven’t been very successful in the finals of the US Open, I’ve won one in the last four, but still I’ve been playing some of my best tennis on this court since 2007, my first Grand Slam final against Roger, so I look forward to it.”

Do not miss this sixth final of the year between the two best players in the world.

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