Roger Federer is 34. It's been more than three years since he won a Grand Slam title. He's been considered past his prime for quite some time.
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Roger Federer, of Switzerland, reacts to applause from the crowd after defeating Stan Wawrinka, of Switzerland, during a semifinal match at the US Open tennis tournament in New York. (Image: AP)[/caption]
And he might just be playing some of the top tennis of his career at the moment.
Federer moved into his first U.S. Open final since 2009 with the latest in a string of dominating performances, overwhelming longtime pal and Swiss Olympic and Davis Cup teammate Stan Wawrinka 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 on Friday night.
"I've tried very hard in the last six years, I'll tell you, to get back in another final," Federer said. "Came close a few times."
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As for the quality of his play over the past two weeks — he has won all 18 sets he's played and been broken only twice — Federer said: "It's definitely very good. Maybe my best, I'm not sure. I'm serving very well. I'm playing positive tennis. I'm going for my shots, and it seems to work. I'd love it to work just one more time."
Against Wawrinka, Federer saved all four break points he faced, won a "did-I-read-that-right?" 80 percent of his first serve points and limited himself to only 17 unforced errors.
Believe it or not, the other men's match Friday was even less competitive: Novak Djokovic beat defending champion Marin Cilic 6-0, 6-1, 6-2, the most lopsided semifinal in New York in the Open era, which started in 1968.
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"A lot of people are going to say it's a little bit of (an) embarrassment to lose like that," said Cilic, who explained that he was hampered by a right ankle injury he picked up in the fourth round and would have caused him to pull out of a lesser tournament.
Those results set up a blockbuster for Sunday's final: No. 1 Djokovic, owner of nine major titles, against No. 2 Federer, owner of a record 17.
"There's a lot on the line always when we play against each other," said Federer, who beat Djokovic in the 2007 U.S. Open final but lost semifinals to him in 2010 and 2011, both 7-5 in the fifth set.
It is their record-tying 42nd career matchup overall — in the Open era, which dates to 1968, only Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have played each other that often) — and Federer leads 21-20. He won their most recent match, on a hard court last month at the Cincinnati Masters. This will be their sixth meeting of 2015, all in finals, and Djokovic has won three of those, including the Wimbledon final two months ago.
"We all know how consistent he is and how good he is in the latter stages of Grand Slams and any other big tournament," Djokovic said. "He's always going to perform on a high level. ... He always makes you play your best."
On the same day that Serena Williams' bid for a calendar-year Grand Slam ended with a semifinal loss to Roberta Vinci, Djokovic made it to his fourth major final of the year. He won the Australian Open in January, lost to Wawrinka at the French Open in June, and won Wimbledon in July.
Federer won five consecutive U.S. Open titles from 2004-08, then lost to Juan Martin del Potro in the final six years ago.
For Djokovic, it's his sixth trip to the final at Flushing Meadows. So far, though, he is 1-4, with his lone U.S. Open title coming in 2011.
Federer's victory lasted 1 hour, 32 minutes. Djokovic's went 1 hour, 25 minutes. So both should be well-rested by the time Sunday afternoon's final rolls around.
Each will have a six-time major champion in his corner: Federer is coached by Stefan Edberg; Djokovic works with Boris Becker.
Edberg called Federer's success at his current age "outstanding."
"I retired at 30," Edberg said. "I couldn't take it anymore, mentally. Physically, I could've played another four or five years."
Djokovic, who is 28, has won four Grand Slam titles since Federer's last, which came at Wimbledon in 2012.
Against the ninth-seeded Cilic, Djokovic played cleanly and with just the right amount of caution, making only 13 unforced errors to his injured opponent's 37.
"His game," Cilic said, "doesn't suit me so well."
Now there's an understatement. Djokovic has won all 14 of their matches.
His rivalry with Federer is far more intriguing.
This will be their 13th matchup at a Grand Slam tournament; Djokovic leads 7-6. It's their fourth in a major final; Djokovic leads 2-1.
"He's been really tough to beat, plus he's tough mentally," Federer said. "I like that challenge, and I'll be ready for it."