The weather was much better at the US Open on Sunday. So was Novak Djokovic.
Under a cloudless blue sky, in only a hint of wind, defending champion Djokovic got his game into high gear and reached his third consecutive final at Flushing Meadows by beating fourth seed David Ferrer of Spain 2-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 in a match suspended a day earlier.
“I was a different player,” second seed Djokovic said. “I felt much more comfortable on the court today than I did yesterday, [when] obviously the conditions were more brutal.”
Ferrer led a shaky Djokovic 5-2 in the semi-final’s opening set on Saturday when wind was whipping at more than 30kph and play was halted because of an impending rainstorm. When they resumed about 18 hours later, Ferrer held serve to take that set and then Djokovic quickly took control, using the brand of defense-to-offense baseline excellence that has carried the Serb to four of the past seven Grand Slam titles.
“We were all praying for less wind today,” Djokovic said. “He handled the wind much better than I did.”
In the final, Djokovic was set to face Olympic champion Andy Murray, who beat Tomas Berdych 5-7, 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 (9/7) on Saturday. It is the fifth consecutive year the US Open men’s title match has been played a day later than planned.
Third seed Murray was able to enjoy a day off on Sunday, while Djokovic had to put in some work, but in the end it was not too taxing — Djokovic played only about two hours and was finished with Ferrer by 1:20pm, giving him more than 24 hours to rest before taking on Murray.
“I don’t feel any problems physically ... It was good to have the job done in four sets,” Djokovic said. “I feel fresh as I can be at this stage of the tournament.”
Murray is one of only two men to lose each of his first four major finals — his coach, Ivan Lendl, is the other — and he was trying to avoid dropping to 0-5. He was also trying to become the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win any of tennis’ four most important tournaments.
“I don’t think there’s any clear favorite,” five-time major champion Djokovic said. “He’s looking for his first Grand Slam title. I’m sure he’s going to be very motivated and hopefully we can come up with our best tennis for this crowd.”
Djokovic leads the head-to-head series against Murray 8-6, but lost their most recent matchup in the semi-finals of the London Olympic Games.
“Most of our matches that we played against each other were very close and only small margins decide the winner,” Djokovic said.
He and Murray were born a week apart in May 1987 (Djokovic is younger), and they have come up through the ranks together and know each other well.
Before heading out to warm up for his semi-final, Murray sat in front of a computer with Djokovic and they watched online together while Scotland and Serbia played to a 0-0 draw in a qualifying match for the 2014 soccer World Cup.
Djokovic extended his winning streak in Grand Slam matches played on hard courts to 27, including titles at last year’s US Open and the Australian Open in 2011 and last year. He slides along the surface as though it were red clay, allowing him to use his elastic limbs to contort and stretch to get to opponents’ shots that appear to be winners.
Over and over again on Sunday, Djokovic would prolong points until he could gain an advantage or Ferrer would miss a ground-stroke. After ending one 25-stroke exchange by snapping off a cross-court backhand winner while serving out the second set, Djokovic bellowed and spread his arms wide, holding a pose, as his parents rose to their feet in the guest box.