U.S. Open: Rafael Nadal first into men's final. Federer next?
There was a moment of concern when Rafael Nadal called for a trainer in the second set to tend to a blistered toe and a sore foot. Nadal was up a set and ahead 3-2 in the second set with all the momentum on his side, so it seemed Nadal must be in bad shape to take a break.
And then he came back, got to triple break point in the eighth game of the set with a cruel defensive lob, then quickly ran out the second set.
After summoning a different pair of shoes, Nadal decided he didn't need those any more and soon thereafter Nadal had made it into his first U.S. Open final with a 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 win over 12th-seeded Mikhail Youzhny of Russia.
At 1 p.m. PDT on Sunday, Nadal will play the winner of Saturday's second semifinal between second-seeded Roger Federer and third-seeded Novak Djokovic. Federer, 29, has won five U.S. Open titles. Djokovic was a finalist here three years ago but his only major is an Australian Open.
Nadal, the 24-year-old Spaniard who is seeded first, has already won eight Grand Slam titles but never this one. And he'd never been past the semifinals until Saturday. Nadal made a point of lightening up his schedule this summer and trying to come into the Open less tired and healthier. Last year he had battled what he called his "broken abdominal" and in other years he has limped in with sore knees or way overplayed, especially in 2008, the Olympic year.
Youzhny's only brief moment of pleasure was when he broke Nadal's serve in the eighth game of the final set, only the second time Nadal has lost a service game in the tournament. Youzhny's break-point shot was great release of frustration, a massive overhead that had CBS announcer Dick Enberg utter his trademark "Oh my." But in the next game Nadal broke back when Youzhny made an equally extravagant error, missing an easy volley at the net.
When Nadal made his match point, a well-placed service winner, his fist pump was his biggest ever.
"For me, it's a dream right now," Nadal said. "I'm going to play for the first time in a final here in the biggest center court in the world. I am very happy for that."
-- Diane Pucin, reporting from New York
Photo: Rafael Nadal follows through on a backhand return to Mikhail Youzhny in their U.S. Open semifinal on Saturday. Credit: Emmanuel Dunand / AFP / Getty Images