If you just look at the seeds remaining in the men's singles draw, you would think that Novak Djokovic has a better chance than Mikhail Youzhny (seeded 12 and a surprising semi-finalist this year) of stopping the inevitable match between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the finals. But as most non-casual tennis fans know, there is much more to a match than the number's printed to the left of each competitor's last name on the television screen.
The last time Youzhny faced Nadal at the U.S. Open was the quarterfinals in 2006. Youzhny won that match and then bowed out to Roddick in the next round. It's clear that Nadal is a much different player than he was four years ago, but the fact remains that he has yet to reach a U.S. Open final in his career.
On the other hand you have the No. 3-seeded Djokovic, who has bowed down to Federer the last three years at Flushing Meadows, all on the final weekend. Sure, the matches have been close, but the Serbian was only able to take one set of Roger and you have to wonder if he believes deep down that he can take out the Maestro on the grandest of stages.
While Djokovic continues to feel a lot of pressure to backup his one major title that he won at Australia in 2008, Youzhny will really be playing with house money. He was a semi-finalist back in 2006, but he hasn't really shown much over the past few years that would suggest he should be challenging for a grand slam title. He is also one of the best practice players on the tour, so you know he has the baseline game that can hang with Nadal if he goes for his shots.
It is well known that Nadal badly wants to win this tournament, and you know that Federer realizes that in the back of his mind. Roger is therefore going to do everything in his power to make sure that Nadal doesn't complete his grand slam without having to go through him to do so. That extra motivated that Federer will be playing with hurts Novak's chances even more.
Nadal has clearly felt the pressure to prove to critics that he can win in New York, losing to Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro in the semi-finals the last two seasons. This year he has a better draw in the semi-finals with Youzhny, but you know the Spanish lefty won't be looking past him.
I do expect both Federer and Nadal to take care of business on Saturday and set up one of the most epic finals in tennis history. Federer has been at this stage the last six years and come through without much of a problem, while Nadal has yet to prove he can do it. Given Federer's great success against Djokovic, Youzhny having nothing to lose, and the history that the two greats have at the Open, I'd have to give a slight edge to Youzhny's chances of ruining what every tennis fan wants to see on Sunday.