Federer nearly flawless in reaching final

Roger Federer was nearly flawless in his straight-sets U.S. Open semifinal win over Nikolay Davydenko. Bonnie DeSimone writes how the mental aspect of Federer's game has taken him to the top of the sport.

Updated: September 9, 2006, 9:37 PM ET
By Bonnie DeSimone | Special to ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Nikolay Davydenko had a slightly sandblasted look when he walked into his post-match news conference Saturday, as if he'd just hiked through a windstorm in the desert.

The seventh-seeded Russian might have harbored the faint hope that he could give Roger Federer a hassle in their U.S. Open semifinal, even though the world No. 1 had won all seven of their previous meetings. In their most recent match, Davydenko roped Federer into tiebreaks in the final two sets of a four-set loss in the Australian Open quarterfinals last January.

Roger Federer
AP Photo/Richard DrewFederer is one win from his third Grand Slam title of 2006 and ninth of his career.

But Federer throttled up the pace of play, surprising the gritty Davydenko, who wound up eating Federer's dust in a somewhat bloodless 6-1, 7-5, 6-4 victory. The Swiss star's mastery raised his 2006 record to 69-5 and locked him into his sixth consecutive Grand Slam final, extending his Open-era record.

Federer normally eschews talk of streaks and milestones, but he allowed himself to savor this moment.

"Especially the four in the same year. … It's kind of really special," he said. "It was kind of what I was hoping for the beginning of the year, but it's such a long road, and you have to work so extremely hard. You know, I've gotten so close to winning the French as well, so I'm happy I didn't let my head hang down and, you know, kind of get disappointed on myself [for] … missing the big opportunity.

"But [I] came right back, won Wimbledon, and now I'm back in the finals of the Open. It's a fantastic year -- the best ever for me. I'm really happy."

Federer greeted reporters by placing a miniature teddy bear on the desk in front of him. The toy animal sports a blue jersey that bears Federer's name and is part of a fund-raising effort for UNICEF, the international agency devoted to children's welfare for which Federer is an ambassador.

There were no cuddly moments on court, however. Federer overwhelmed Davydenko in a 22-minute first set in which the Russian could manage only two winners against eight unforced errors.

On Federer's first break opportunity of the second set, he sprinted toward the net and muscled a forehand crosscourt shot past Davydenko to take a 3-2 lead, but Davydenko came right back to steal Federer's service in the next game, firing a crackerjack forehand passing shot to close it out.

With Davydenko serving and the second set tied 4-4, the two men played a three-deuce game -- the longest of their afternoon. Federer later said he felt the match was in hand after he unloaded on a crisp Davydenko crosscourt to his forehand, sending it whistling down the line. Although Federer lost that game, he ripped through the next three, losing only three points in the process.

After Davydenko broke Federer to bring the third set back on serve at 3-3, Federer nudged him into a backhand error to regain the edge. The Russian saved three match points before Federer concluded things with a service winner.

The Russian said the slower tempo of the match in Australia had helped him control more points, and he spoke admiringly of Federer's ability to adjust his game plan and stick to it.

"That's why I think he win[s] everything, because he play[s] completely different," Davydenko said.

Federer-Roddick: Match History
Event
Round
Result
Basel
2001
QF
Federer -- 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5)
Sydney
2002
SF
Federer --
7-6 (3), 6-4
Basel
2002
QF
Federer --
7-6 (5), 6-1
Wimbledon
2003
SF
Federer -- 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-3
Montreal
2003
SF
Roddick -- 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (3)
Masters Cup Houston
2003
SF
Federer --
7-6 (2), 6-2
Wimbledon
2004
F
Federer -- 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (3), 6-4
Canada
Masters
2004
F
Federer --
7-5, 6-3
Bangkok
2004
F
Federer --
6-4, 6-0
Wimbledon
2005
F
Federer -- 6-2, 7-6 (2), 6-4
Cincinnati
Masters
2005
F
Federer --
6-3, 7-5
Federer said his evolution as a player has been as much mental as physical.

"Margins are so small these days that it makes a huge difference if you got that edge, too, over an opponent," he said. "It used to be one of my weaknesses really, and I've tried to, you know, kind of change it around. I was able to. It's been paying off ever since. So it's been maybe three or four years where I really turned the corner.

"I've always felt like I was totally exhausted after each and every match I played. I said maybe I could win two rounds or so, but I couldn't win an entire tournament playing like this. So for that reason I had to relax a little bit."

Davydenko has been the workhorse of the men's tour this season, playing an ATP-high 76 matches in 26 tournaments and taking only two weeks off all year.

But he said neither fitness nor fatigue was an issue Saturday.

"I was disappointed for my game," Davydenko said. "I play[ed] not so great. Not like somehow I want[ed] to play or something how I like to play. That's was disappointing from my side. I was feeling something not so perfect from my side, how I want to prove my game against Federer."

Davydenko's loss spoiled the possibility of the first all-Russian Grand Slam final. He knew the odds were against that, and was also charmingly aware of what a ratings-killer that would have been.

"Everybody waiting for Roddick in final against Federer," Davydenko said, smiling. "Nobody want[s] … final [to] be [Mikhail] Youzhny-Davydenko at U.S. Open."

Bonnie DeSimone is a frequent contributor who is covering the U.S. Open for ESPN.com.