The dream U.S. Open final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer was ever-so-close to becoming a reality. Federer held double match point at 5-4 in the fifth set in his Saturday semifinal against Novak Djokovic and it appeared that he was set to make his seventh straight final in New York and first against his archrival Nadal, who had won his match earlier in the day.
But then Djokovic held at 15-40. And then he did it again at 30-40 en route to a match-saving hold. He broke Federer in the next game and then served out the match, denying what was set to be a storybook final Sunday. It's not Fedal, it's Djokadal. And you know what? Tennis might end up being better for it.
There's long been talk that Federer and Nadal are bad for the game, in that their dominance makes any match not involving them a bore for general audiences. It's always sounded like the complaint of people who need something to complain about -- two legends are better than none -- but there's some truth behind it. Non-tennis fans don't want to watch Tomas Berdych vs. Nadal, they want stars. Maybe with this epic win and another possible one Sunday, Djokovic can become one of those.
He's affable, funny, self-deprecating and plays an exciting brand of tennis. He's got the everyman quality we hear so much about. Federer and Nadal, for all their greatness, don't have that. Roger has positioned himself as a high-class, luxury item and Nadal doesn't speak the language well enough to relate to American audiences. Djokovic has "it". The fact that he's flawed -- he struggles with some health issues and succumbs to pressure -- makes him more likable. He could be a star in a sport that desperately needs a new one.
First he has to beat Nadal, a tall order given that Nadal is playing some of the best tennis of his life and is fresher owing to his quick win in his semifinal. But Djokovic beat the best Saturday. Who's to say he can't do the same Sunday?