NEW YORK, September 10- New Yorkers stand just two matches away from the US Open they have craved for years — Roger Federer against Rafael Nadal.The pair have never met at Flushing Meadows in the seven years that they have both been playing here.
In fact, they have not played on US soil since Miami in early 2005 when Federer hit back from two sets to love down to win in five sets, the first and only time that has happened to Nadal in his career.
First, though, they must win their semi-finals, top seed Nadal against Russian 12th seed Mikhail Youzhny and five-time former winner Federer against third seed Novak Djokovic.
On the face of it, Federer has the toughest task ahead.
Djokovic has gone from strength to strength over the last 10 days, scraping through his opener in five sets before impressing in his quarter-final thrashing of dangerous Frenchman Gael Monfils.
But he has lost in the last three years here to Federer, dropping a final in 2007 and semi-finals in 2008 and 2009 and has won just one set in the process.
It will, he agrees, be a monumental task he faces on Saturday.
"I have been watching him play here. He’s playing maybe the best tennis that he has played in this tournament," Djokovic said.
"I think he’s playing great. I don’t think because he lost in the quarters of the French and in Wimbledon that he’s more vulnerable than ever.
"But I think he’s actually playing really well. He played great in Toronto and Cincinnati, and he just loves this surface. He loves this tournament. He has won so many times."
Federer, like Nadal, has yet to drop a set, only the second time he has done that in reaching a US Open semi-final, and has looked as at home as ever inside the Arthur Ashe Stadium.
But he knows that Djokovic can beat him as he has done five times in their 15 meetings, the last time being a three sets loss in his hometown of Basel last year.
The fast hardcourts at Flushing Meadows is fertile ground for Djokovic, Federer believes.
"I think this is his best surface," he said.
"I think this kind of favors his play the most, kind of a faster hard court, because he can pick up some incredible balls, half volley them, redirect them.
"It helps maybe serve a bit more, and on the return he can zone in a bit, and all of a sudden he’s really tough to pass.
"That’s what makes him one of the best players in the game right now, and especially on this surface he’s obviously in the top three or four."
The Nadal-Youzhny semi-final looks heavily weighted in favour of the Spaniard, who has dropped serve just once in five games.
On the other hand, Youzhny has needed 13 sets in his last three matches, ending with a gruelling four-hour encounter against Stanislas Wawrinka in the quarter-finals.
But Youzhny does have four wins over Nadal in their 11 meetings, including a four-sets win here in a 2006 quarter-final.
Nadal says that defeat was "a painful match for me.
"It is going to be very difficult to beat him," he said.
"He’s a great player, very aggressive, very flat shots.
"I have to play aggressive because if I am losing court against him, it will be impossible to come back."
Youzhny said he was confident he would be fully recuperated from his efforts against Wawrinka by the time he takes to the court against Nadal.
And he insisted he would have no qualms over spoiling the blockbuster final that New York so badly wants to see.
"I’m ready to be bad person. I love to be bad person in this case," he said.