By Larry Fine
NEW YORK, Sept 7 (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic was not at his best, but the world number one relied on experience, self-confidence and fitness to overcome an in-form Stanislas Wawrinka on Saturday and reach the U.S. Open final.
"Wawrinka was a better player for most of the better part of the match because he was aggressive and played better tennis," the world number one Serb said after the 2-6 7-6(4) 3-6 6-3 6-4 victory that set up a blockbuster final with Rafa Nadal.
"I just tried to hang on and fight, and be mentally tough and believe all the way through I can actually win.
"I sincerely believed that as the match progresses and longer it goes, I have maybe that physical edge over him, and ... playing on a big stage in semi-finals, maybe that experience could give me a little bit more confidence."
Djokovic, who committed an uncharacteristic 14 unforced errors in the first set, said he was nervous about facing Wawrinka, who has enjoyed a banner 2013 and was coming off a straight-sets upset of 2012 U.S. Open winner Andy Murray.
"I still feel the big excitement before the match, and I knew that he was playing well. He had a tremendous performance against Murray.
"I knew that he's gonna come out with big backhands and be aggressive, so I tried to be close to the line. But I wasn't managing to find my rhythm. That's what frustrated me. I wasn't hitting the ball well. A lot of unforced errors.
"But it was one of those days where even if you don't feel well on the court you have to be tough and believe that you can win. And I have done so."
The Serb turned the tide after a marathon third game of the fifth set in which Swiss Wawrinka fought off five breakpoints to hold serve in a 21-minute game. Djokovic went on to win five of the next seven games to claim his victory in just over four hours.
Djokovic, who had lost only one set in his march to a 14th successive grand slam semi-final, said having a tough test before his Monday final against second seed Nadal could be a positive.
"I managed to find my way through, to adjust, and to win," he said. "That's what counts.
"Mentally it's going to help me, and physically I'm fine. I haven't been spending much time on court before this match today."
(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Ian Ransom)