NEW YORK — The game took 21 minutes. It lasted 30 points.
Novak Djokovic squandered five break points and lost that instant classic of a game but made Stanislas Wawrinka pay an awfully heavy price.
After dropping the epic third game of the final set Saturday, Djokovic broke the next time Wawrinka served, then didn’t falter once he had the lead. The top-seeded Serb withstood a 4-hour, 9-minute onslaught of Wawrinka’s massive groundstrokes to pull out a 2-6, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory and advance to his fourth straight final at the U.S. Open.
“Well, I was thinking – I guess everybody was thinking – ‘Whoever wins this game is going to win the match,’ ” Djokovic said. “After he won the game, I thought, ‘OK, I guess I have to fight against those odds.’ ”
He did, to improve to 20-7 in five-set matches, and now the 2011 champion will go for his second U.S. Open title Monday against No. 2 Rafael Nadal, who had a much easier time in a 6-4, 7-6 (1), 6-2 victory over eighth-seeded Richard Gasquet.
It will be the third Nadal-Djokovic final at Flushing Meadows in the last four years, the only break coming last year when Nadal was out with a knee injury. They split the first two meetings.
Nadal won with little drama in the afternoon’s second match, despite dropping his first service game of the Open.
Fans certainly got their money’s worth in the first one.
“I managed to find my way through, to adjust, and to win,” Djokovic said.
His victory will be remembered mostly for a game he lost – the third game of the final set, a back-and-forth ride in which Djokovic had five opportunities to break and lost them all.
Ninth-seeded Wawrinka had eight game points. Before the last, he gestured to the crowd to pump up the volume. Sensing the opportunity, Djokovic hammed it up, as well. Wawrinka followed with a 123-mph service winner up the middle.