Mason, Ohio: No medal involved this time. Little drama, either. Novak Djokovic simply ground his way to another tournament title match.
And Roger Federer will be waiting for him.
Djokovic reached the finals of the Western & Southern Open for the second straight year Saturday, beating Juan Martin del Potro 6-3, 6-2 in a reprise of their Olympics match. Del Potro defeated Djokovic for the bronze medal on Wimbledon’s lush grass two weeks ago.
The final will match the world’s top two players, the first time that’s happened in Cincinnati. If Federer wins, it’ll give him a record five titles in the tournament.
“It’s a nice bonus, really,” Federer said. “When I was a kid I wasn’t thinking of winning five Cincinnatis, but then again here I am in this great situation being able to do it, the first man ever. So I’m obviously excited. Very often when I do now reach a finals there is something on the line. Here we go — there is something there.”
The top-ranked Federer beat Swiss countryman Stanislas Wawrinka 7-6 (4), 6-3 in the other semifinal. It’ll be the seventh time that Federer and Djokovic have played for a tournament title, the last time in 2011 at Dubai. Federer beat Djokovic for the Cincinnati title in 2009.
Federer leads their career series 15-12, but it’s taken a few interesting turns lately. Djokovic beat him in the semifinals at the US Open last year, then again in the semis at Rome and the French Open. Federer got the upper hand again in the semifinals at Wimbledon.
“I hope I’m fresher than him tomorrow,” Federer said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Venus Williams played through a bad back that forced her to get treatment and reduced her serve to 63 mph (101 kph) before finally fading in the third set as China’s Li Na reached the women’s final with a 7-5, 3-6, 6-1 victory.
Li is trying for her first title this season. She lost in finals at Sydney, Rome and Montreal, where Petra Kvitova beat her a week ago.
Kvitova played Angelique Kerber in the other semifinal. Kerber ended Serena Williams’ 19-match winning streak a day earlier.
Djokovic reached the Cincinnati finals last year but had to quit in the second set because of a sore shoulder, giving the title to Andy Murray.
He won the Rogers Cup in Toronto last Sunday, leaving him a little tired, but he managed to get some rest at the suburban Cincinnati tournament. He was on court for only a half-hour Thursday night, when Nikolay Davydenko had to quit their match because of a sore shoulder.
The Serb had played only three sets the last two days, leaving plenty of energy for his second semifinal in eight days.
Djokovic and del Potro exchanged a lot of shots from the baseline in the first set, with both players wasting chances to take control early. Djokovic got to the semifinal by holding serve in all 22 games during the tournament, facing only four break points. He faced that many in the third game of the match.
The Serb saved one of those break points with a 30-shot rally that ended with del Potro dumping a backhand into the net, then dropping his head.
“We played long rallies,” Djokovic said. “It could have easily gone the other way. I managed to hang in there and play my best when I needed it.”
One of del Potro’s biggest concerns is his left wrist, which has nagged him for some time. The right-hander will have it checked before the US Open by the same doctor who operated on his right wrist in 2010, when he missed most of the season while recovering.
During the first set, del Potro looked at his left wrist and shook it after a tough backhand shot, an indication those long rallies were stinging.
“Yeah, it’s bothering me all the time and I don’t want to risk too much,” del Potro said. “I have experience in wrist problems, and I would like to take time to fix this little problem.”
Djokovic broke him to go up 4-2 and served it out. He broke him again for a 2-1 lead in the second set, when del Potro seemed to lose his edge.
The men’s draw in Cincinnati took a hit this year when Rafael Nadal had to withdraw because of a sore knee. Nadal hasn’t played since Wimbledon and has already pulled out of the US Open because of the injury.
Serena Williams watched from a seat in the stands next to the players’ tunnel while her older sister struggled with her back, showing the strain during her fourth grueling, three-set match of the week.
“I pretty much couldn’t serve,” Venus said. “But I wanted to try, especially since this is my first semifinal of the year. I wanted to try to see if I could get to the final. It didn’t work out for me.”
Li seemed fresher than Venus Williams, who lost games on her serve twice by double faulting. Williams had 21 unforced errors in the first set, which took 61 minutes.
After the third game of the second set, Williams called for the trainer. She placed a white towel on the court and lay face-down for several minutes while the trainer worked on her lower back. Williams went back out on the court and broke Li’s serve to even the set at 2-all.
“I thought the match to be over,” Li said.
Williams had trouble getting anything on her serve — she moved stiffly — and ambled to her chair during breaks, leaning down to stretch her back. With the crowd cheering every point, she kept playing and kept winning, breaking Li again to go up 4-2 and serving it the set.
Before one serve early in the third set, she started to raise her arm to toss the ball and had to stop because of her back. She then served at 66 mph — and held serve. One of her second serves clocked 63 mph a few games later.
Williams pushed herself up to the end. She ran down a ball for a put-away slam in the last game, which Li won when Williams hit a return long — her 47th unforced error during the 2-hour, 8-minute match.
Williams smiled as he walked to the net to shake hands.