Three thoughts after Novak Djokovic's 2-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 win over David Ferrer in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open.
? Pity David Ferrer. The fourth-seed played the set of his life on Saturday amid "Wizard of Oz"-like conditions in which Djokovic struggled to adapt.
"I can't imagine the two guys before us," said Djokovic, referring to the earlier semifinal between Tomas Berdych and Andy Murray. "I mean, they had to play four sets on that wind."
Ferrer had set point on his racket when match play was scotched and spectators evacuated from the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, in deference to a fast-approaching storm system. But on Sunday, another ill wind blew. His name was Djokovic, and he huffed and puffed and blew the Little Spaniard That Could clean off the court. After holding Djokovic to a single break-point opportunity in the first set a day earlier -- and denying him -- Ferrer conceded six of nine break-point chances in the next three sets. Ferrer's big forehand was gusted back by Djokovic's screaming groundstrokes; the Spaniard hit as many winners in sets two (2) and three (8) as he did in the entire first set -- the only set Djokovic has conceded all tournament. And what a gift it was.
Holding a 3-2 lead in the third, Ferrer had a chance to swing momentum back in his favor on Djokovic's serve, but wound up losing all four points on baseline errors. "I had three or four games playing so bad, a lot of mistakes," said Ferrer, looking on the dais like a man drained of all his life force. "I wish I would try to do my best, but sometimes I can't."
? Djokovic is as masterful a strategist behind the scenes as he is on court. Tournament director David Brewer said he polled the four semifinalists in advance of Saturday's storm for their preference of playing time on Ashe and "got four different opinions." The one with any weight was Djokovic's.
According to a USTA source, the second-seeded Serb sicced three representatives on tournament organizers to ensure that he played last on Ashe. The move seemed a foolhardy one given the turbulent weather in the forecast, the short window in which play had to be crammed in and that the average Andy Murray-Tomas Berdych match takes almost two-and-a-half hours to play, a lengthy average given only one of those was a best-of-five match -- and that was before Saturday's four-hour rollercoaster ride. But Djokovic clearly knows what he's doing. He let Ferrer score his points for him and got off the court in just under two hours. In addition to conserving energy, he sealed his semi more than 24 hours before his late-Monday afternoon date with Murray in the final. Apart from the quarterfinal against Juan Martin del Potro, Djokovic hasn't spent so much time on court -- averaging just under three hours through the first four rounds.
"I don't feel any problems physically," he said. "I feel fresh as I can be at this stage of the tournament."
? Is Djokovic-Murray the next great rivalry in tennis? It was a question considered as far back as the 2011 Australian Open, until Djokovic dismissed Murray in straight sets for his sixth victory against the Brit in nine tries. But since then, Murray has tipped the scales, splitting the last six meetings. Four of them came this year alone, and two -- the Australian Open and the Miami Masters -- were decided in finals that could've gone either way.
"That's something that's expected in a way because we have similar games," Djokovic said. "The last match he has won [in the semifinal round of the London Olympics]? Also [a] close one. Tomorrow I guess there's no clear favorite."
Over the course of this U.S. Open, no player in the draw has consistently performed at a high level as these two. With Roger Federer out in the quarters and Rafael Nadal once again on the training table, Monday's final could well mark a tipping point in the men's game -- with Djokovic and Murray at the forefront.