NEW YORK --- So much for Rafa vs. Roger in the U.S. Open final.
Novak Djokovic prevented what would have been the eighth Grand Slam championship match between tennis' top two men -- and first such showdown at Flushing Meadows -- by saving two match points and coming back to stun Roger Federer 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 in Saturday's semifinals.
"One of those matches," Djokovic said, "you'll always remember in your career."
It means that the third-seeded Djokovic will be standing between No. 1 Rafael Nadal and a career Grand Slam in the final today. Nadal owns eight major titles but never had been past the semifinals at the U.S. Open before beating No. 12 Mikhail Youzhny 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 on Saturday.
"I won't watch," Federer said, "but I hope he wins," Federer said, referring to Nadal.
Federer had reached six consecutive finals at the U.S. Open, winning five trophies from 2004-08, but he repeatedly let leads slip away this time. Federer took the first set against Djokovic, then the third. And even after Djokovic forced a fifth set, Federer twice was a single point from winning.
With the crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium trying to will Federer to victory -- probably because of the tantalizing prospect of a final between him and Nadal -- the owner of a record 16 Grand Slam titles couldn't seize his chances.
"It's really hard to describe the feeling I have right now," Djokovic said in an on-court interview. "Ten minutes ago, I was a point from losing this match, and now I managed to come back."
It actually was about 18 minutes from Federer's first match point to Djokovic's, but you get what he meant.
Djokovic had lost to Federer at each of the previous three U.S. Opens, in the 2007 final and the 2008-09 semifinals. That was part of why everyone was expecting to see the 22nd career meeting between Federer and Nadal. They would have been the first pair of men to meet in the finals of all four Grand Slam tournaments.
Instead, today's final will have the 22nd career meeting between Djokovic and Nadal, one of whom will become a U.S. Open champion for the first time.
"To be honest, I was just closing my eyes and hitting forehands as fast as I can on match point. If it goes in, it goes in. If it goes out, just another loss to Federer in the U.S. Open," Djokovic said. "I managed to come back. I was very lucky."
Federer's 3-hour, 44-minute loss to Djokovic was far more entertaining than the day's first semifinal.
Nadal dominated with his serve again, holding 13 of 14 times Saturday, making him 89 of 91 for the tournament.
"After a lot of work," said Nadal, who hasn't dropped a set these two weeks, "I am here in the final."
He lost in the semifinals in New York each of the past two years. In 2008, he lost to Andy Murray, and now says he was wiped out mentally after a long, if successful, summer that included a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics. In 2009, he lost to eventual champion Juan Martin del Potro, while dealing with injuries.
"Well, it's another step, I think, in my career, so for sure it's a very important victory for me," Nadal said. "To be in the final of the last Grand Slam of the year is something new, because I always arrived here with problems."