RAFAEL Nadal will take on Novak Djokovic in a sixth grand slam final at the US Open on Monday.
After Djokovic struggled past Stanislas Wawrinka in the first semi-final, Nadal had a much easier time against Richard Gasquet, beating his one-time junior rival 6-4 7-6 (7/1) 6-2.
All the signs were in Nadal’s favour. He had not lost to Gasquet in 10 professional meetings, had not lost a hard-court match in 2013 and had not so much as had his serve broken at Flushing Meadows
Gasquet at least managed to end that statistic, breaking in Nadal’s 74th service game of the tournament.
But the Frenchman, whose second grand slam semi-final came six years after his first, could find no way to hurt the incredible Spaniard.
Gasquet did not help his own cause, dropping his first service game in each set and serving double faults to start and finish the second-set tie-break.
The eighth seed had played back-to-back five-setters heading into the clash, so it was perhaps not surprising that he ran out of steam, ending the match with consecutive double faults as well.
Nadal has now reached the final on his last three visits to the US Open having missed last year through injury.
Djokovic has won three of their five slam finals, while they have one victory apiece in New York.
Nadal said: “It’s just amazing. After what happened last year, to have the chance to play in the final is a dream for me.
“Novak is an amazing competitor. He’s been in the final here a lot of times, he’s a great champion and it will be a tough final for me.”
Earlier, Djokovic and Wawrinka staged a near repeat of their epic Australian Open encounter, with the world number one again coming out on top.
In Melbourne, Wawrinka had pushed Djokovic to 12-10 in the fifth set, and the Swiss took great confidence into his first grand slam semi-final after his shock win over defending champion Andy Murray.
Twice Wawrinka led by a set but Djokovic boosted his iron-man reputation further with a 2-6 7-6 (7/4) 3-6 6-3 6-4 victory to reach a fourth consecutive US Open final.
What the match will mostly be remembered for is one extraordinary game in the fifth set.
At 1-1, Wawrinka battled for 21 minutes to hold onto his serve, saving five break points and surviving 12 deuces, but it did not turn out to be the crucial moment it appeared at the time.
Djokovic had more in the tank and he broke in Wawrinka’s next service game before going on to clinch victory with an ace after four hours and nine minutes.
Both players won 165 points, and Djokovic conceded he was outplayed for much of the contest.
“Wawrinka was a better player for the better part of the match because he was aggressive and played better tennis,” said the 26-year-old.
“I just tried to hang on and fight and be mentally tough and believe all the way through I could actually win.
“And I sincerely believed that the longer it went on, I felt I had maybe the physical edge over him, and maybe that experience could give me a little bit more confidence.
“At the end of the day, I managed to stay tough and play well when I needed to. That’s something that definitely encourages me before the final.”
Wawrinka took a medical timeout in the fourth set for treatment to his right thigh, which he felt hampered him in the latter stages.
He said: “It’s a strange feeling, but for me I think I need to take the positive again of that loss, for sure. It’s my first semi-final in a grand slam, so I had a great tournament. Unfortunately today I was struggling a little bit physically.
“I think this was a completely different match than the match we played in the Australian Open. 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, I had the match in control. I think I was playing better than him.
“But he’s not number one for nothing. He was staying with me all the match, and at the end he pushed me far, far, far back. I had to find everything I had in my body today to stay with him, and he won the match.”