Djokovic, Murray favoured in US Open semis
There is no Roger Federer and no Rafa Nadal but still a sense of familiarity about tomorrow's US Open men's semi-finals.
Novak Djokovic, the dominant player for the past three seasons, will be making his sixth consecutive appearance in the semis, defending the title he won last year.
Olympic champion Andy Murray is through to the last four for the third time in five years while Span's David Ferrer is making his second semi-final appearance in New York.
Only Czech Tomas Berdych, who upset Federer in the quarter-finals, is a newcomer to the US Open semi-finals but he is no stranger to the big stage, having made the Wimbledon final two years ago.
The last time Federer and Nadal were both missing from the semi-finals of a grand slam was at the French Open in 2004. The last time neither man made the semis in New York was in 2003.
"You have Murray, Berdych, Ferrer, myself, we're all top-10 players," said Djokovic. "This is tennis. Everybody is trying and has the motivation to perform at their best.
"I still feel that we are having a really good tournament."
With Federer eliminated and the injured Nadal not even making the trip to the Big Apple, Djokovic and Murray are the clear favourites to reach the final.
Djokovic has already won five grand slam titles, including each of the last three played on hard courts, and is unfazed by the added burden of defending his title, reaching the semi-finals without dropping a single set.
"I have learned over the years how to deal with it and how to cope with the pressure and get better on the court, off the court, understand the game better," said the Serbian.
"So right now, I'm just trying to focus on every game individually, but it definitely has a special feeling about it coming as a defending champion. It's unique and I love it."
Djokovic's opponent is Ferrer, who was elevated to fourth seed after the withdrawal of his Davis Cup team mate Nadal.
Although the 30-year-old has never made a grand slam final, he is through to his fourth career semi and has been one of the leading players on the tour this year, winning five titles and making at least the quarter-finals of all four major.
A dogged player who never seems to tire, he is also regarded as one of the toughest players to beat and won an epic fifth set tiebreaker against Janko Tipsarevic to make the semis.
"Of course, this season was the best of all my career. I don't know why." he said. "I am playing with very confidence. I am older, you know, I don't have too much pressure."
For Murray, the absence of Federer and Nadal presents him with his best chance to end Britain's 76-year wait for a grand slam men's champion.
The Scotsman has played in four grand slam finals, including the US Open in 2008 and Wimbledon in July, but lost the lot.
Questions have been raised about his ability to handle the pressure on the biggest occasions but he silenced the doubters when he won the gold medal at the London Olympics.
"You never know exactly what's going to happen ... I would hope that, going into the match on Saturday, win or lose, I'll be in a good place mentally," Murray said. "I'll fight from the first point to the last. If I do that, I'll give myself a shot."
Berdych presents a real challenge to Murray. The Czech is one of the hardest hitters in the game and brimming with confidence after his brilliant performance to beat Federer.
"If my game is well and I'm able to play my game, then I have a quite dangerous game to beat anyone," he said.
Brief biographies of the men's semi-finalists at the 2012 US Open (prefix number denotes seeding):
2-Novak Djokovic (Serbia)
Grand Slam titles: 5 (Australian Open 2008, 2011, 2012; Wimbledon 2011; U.S. Open 2011)
The defending champion is the only player left in the men's draw who has won a grand slam title and is yet to drop a set in the tournament. He has made the semi-finals at Flushing Meadows every year since 2007, reaching the final three times. If he wins, he will have played in seven of the last nine grand slam finals.
4-David Ferrer (Spain)
Grand Slam titles: 0
The Spaniard is through to his fourth career grand slam semi-final and his second at the U.S. Open after making the last four in 2007, losing to Djokovic. Is enjoying his best year on the Tour, winning five titles and making the quarter-finals or better at all four grand slams. He is yet to make a grand slam final and won a fifth set tiebreaker against Janko Tipsarevic to make the semis.
3-Andy Murray (Britain)
Grand Slam titles: 0
The Scotsman is still chasing his first grand slam title after making the U.S. Open final in 2008, the Australian Open in 2010 and 2011 and Wimbledon this year. He won the Olympic gold medal at this year's London Olympics and has dropped just two sets on his way to the semis in New York. He is bidding to become the first British man to win a grand slam title since Fred Perry won the U.S. Open in 1936.
6-Tomas Berdych (Czech Republic)
Grand Slam titles: 0
Produced arguably the best performance of the tournament when he beat Roger Federer in the quarter-finals. A powerful hitter who can play on all courts, his best grand slam performance to date was making to the 2010 Wimbledon final. Has dropped only two sets in getting to the semis and leads Murray 4-2 in head to head matches.
Head-to-head records of the 2012 US Open men's semi-finalists.
2-Novak Djokovic (Serbia) v 4-David Ferrer (Spain) 2004 Bucharest (Ferrer won 4-6 6-4 6-4) 2007 Indian Wells (Djokovic won 6-3 6-4) 2007 Monte Carlo (Ferrer won 7-5 6-4) 2007 U.S. Open (Djokovic won 6-4 6-4 6-3) 2007 Masters Cup (Ferrer won 6-4 6-4) 2008 Australian Open (Djokovic won 6-0 6-3 7-5) 2009 Dubai (Djokovic won 7-5 6-3) 2009 Davis Cup (Ferrer won 6-3 6-3 7-6) 2010 Beijing (Djokovic won 6-2 6-4) 2011 Madrid (Djokovic won 6-4 4-6 6-3) 2011 ATP World Tour Finals (Ferrer won 6-3 6-1) 2012 Australian Open (Djokovic won 6-4 7-6 6-1) 2012 Miami (Djokovic won 6-2 7-6)
(Djokovic leads 8-5)
3-Andy Murray (Britain) v 6-Tomas Berdych (Czech Republic) 2005 Basel (Murray won 6-4 2-6 6-4) 2006 Adelaide (Berdych won 7-6 4-6 6-1) 2010 French Open (Berdych won 6-4 7-5 6-3) 2011 Paris Open (Berdych won 4-6 7-6 6-4) 2012 Dubai (Murray won 6-3 7-5) 2012 Monte Carlo (Berdych won 6-7 6-2 6-3)
(Berdych leads 4-2)
Path to the men's semi-finals at the US Open (prefix denotes seeding):
2-Novak Djokovic (Serbia) 1st round: beat Paolo Lorenzi (Italy) 6-1 6-0 6-1 2nd round: beat Dutra Silva (Brazil) 6-2 6-1 6-2 3rd round: beat 31-Julien Benneteau (France) 6-3 6-2 6-2 4th round: beat 18-Stanislas Wawrinka (Switzerland) 6-4 6-1 3-1 ret Quarter-finals: beat 7-Juan Martin del Potro (Argentina) 6-2 7-6 6-4
4-David Ferrer (Spain) 1st round: beat Kevin Anderson (South Africa) 6-4 6-2 7-6 2nd round: beat Igor Sijsling (Netherlands) 6-2 6-3 7-6 3rd round: beat Lleyton Hewitt (Australia) 7-6 4-6 6-3 6-0 4th round: beat 13-Richard Gasquet (France) 7-5 7-6 6-4 Quarter-finals: beat 8-Janko Tipsarevic (Serbia) 6-3 6-7 2-6 6-3 7-6
3-Andy Murray (Britain) 1st round: beat Alex Bogomolov (Russia) 6-2 6-4 6-1 2nd round: beat Ivan Dodig (Croatia) 6-2 6-1 6-3 3rd round: beat 30-Feliciano Lopez (Spain) 7-6 7-6 4-6 7-6 4th round: beat 15-Milos Raonic (Canada) 6-4 6-4 6-2 Quarter-finals: beat 12-Marin Cilic (Croatia) 3-6 7-6 6-2 6-0
6-Tomas Berdych (Czech Republic) 1st round: beat David Goffin (Belgium) 7-5 6-3 6-3 2nd round: beat Jurgen Zopp (Estonia) 6-1 6-4 6-2 3rd round: beat 27-Sam Querrey (US) 6-7 6-4 6-3 6-2 4th round: beat 11-Nicolas Almagro (Spain) 7-6 6-4 6-1 Quarter-finals: beat 1-Roger Federer (Switzerland) 7-6 6-4 3-6 6-3