NEW YORK Novak Djokovic is all that stands between Rafa Nadal and his official crowning as one of the game's greatest all-round players.
If Nadal wins Sunday's U.S. Open final against Djokovic, the Spaniard will join a select band of seven men who have won all four grand slam titles. And at 24, he will be the second youngest to achieve the feat.
Nadal has never played in the U.S. Open final before but the odds of winning are heavily stacked in his favor.
The world number one has won 14 of his previous 21 matches against Djokovic and is in the best form of his life.
"I feel great. For me, it's a pleasure being here," Nadal said after beating Russia's Mikhail Youzhny 6-2 6-3 6-4 in Saturday's semi-finals.
Nadal won this year's French Open for a fifth time. A month later he won his second Wimbledon crown. If he wins Sunday's U.S. Open final he will become the first man to win those three titles in the same year since Australia's Rod Laver in 1969.
"It's not a dream, because a dream is to win the tournament," Nadal said. "But it is a very, very important tournament for me to be in the final."
Most significantly, the lefthander has arrived in New York in the best shape of his career.
The U.S. Open has proven the most difficult for the world number one to win because of the wear and tear the Flushing Meadows hardcourts had on his body, but Nadal has made some adjustments that have helped him stay in top form.
He has worked hard on improving his serve so that he can win points more easily rather than have to scamper around the courts and it has a paid off as he reached the final without losing a single set and dropped just two games on serve.
But Nadal, who began his career regarded as a clay-court specialist and went on to win majors on grass and hardcourt, remains wary of Djokovic, who is appearing in his second U.S. Open final.
Although Nadal has won two-thirds of their career meetings, he trails Djokovic 7-5 away from clay.
"You think it's gonna be an easy match for me? I don't think so. For me, it's gonna be a very difficult match," Nadal said. "I have had a lot of losses against him on this kind of surface. I have victories, too, but I have losses."
Djokovic, 23, had a shaky start to the tournament with a tough five-setter but has been in brilliant form since. He won his next four matches in straight sets before defeating Roger Federer in a nailbiting semi-final, saving two match points before winning in the fifth set.
The world number three and 2008 Australian Open winner was so exhausted after beating Federer that he said he hoped it rained all day Sunday, but he is not without hope
"It's true that on hard court I do have my best chances against Rafa but he's still number one in the world and the one that playing great tennis," Djokovic said.
"It's gonna be definitely a tough one. Rafa is just playing fantastic tennis. He's gonna be very motivated to win this title because it's the only title he hasn't won in majors."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)