Andy Murray on Sunday gave himself a chance to end a 72-year U.S. Open drought for British men by outwitting world number one Rafael Nadal to reach the final against four-times winner Roger Federer.
Murray, 21, completed a rousing 6-2 7-6 4-6 6-4 victory in a semi-final suspended by rain on Saturday to advance to his maiden grand slam final and bid to become the first British man to win any of the four majors since Fred Perry took the U.S. crown in 1936.
Federer, winner of 12 grand slams, had booked his berth in the final with his best match of the tournament a 6-3 5-7 7-5 6-2 victory over Australian Open winner Novak Djokovic in a semi-final completed on Saturday before rain washed out play.
The 27-year-old Swiss, winner of 12 grand slam titles, has an even older milestone within reach as a victory against Murray would make him the first man to win five U.S. titles in a row since Bill Tilden in 1924.
"He's probably the greatest player ever," the sixth-seeded Scot said courtside of Federer after his backhand putaway of a Nadal drop shot gave him victory in his first trip to the last four of a grand slam.
"To get a chance to play him in a grand slam final is an honour. I have played well against him in the past and hopefully I can do the same again tomorrow."
Murray leads the head-to-head with Federer 2-1, including a hard court victory over the Swiss master this year in Dubai.
Federer had said he might prefer to continue his long slam rivalry against Nadal, who beat him for the French and Wimbledon titles this year, but had high regard for Murray.
"I always thought Andy has incredible talent. He's a great player," Federer told reporters after beating Djokovic. "I'm sure he will be at the top of the game for a very long time."
The men's final is scheduled for Monday at 2100 GMT, one day later than usual because of the weather suspension.
Murray had lost all five of his previous matches against Nadal yet charged to a two sets lead on Saturday and then held his nerve Sunday to outplay the all-conquering Spaniard.
Nadal had been on a sublime run, winning 54 of his last 56 matches and eight tournaments including the French Open, Wimbledon and the Olympics.
Murray, exhibiting improved power and fitness after embracing a rigorous workout ethic this year, sapped the strength of the muscular Majorcan with a booming service that generated 21 aces and a brilliant touch off his groundstrokes.
Positioning himself well behind the baseline on Nadal's serve, the shrewd Scot pushed him from corner to corner with deep groundstrokes before moving in to create angles that produced 65 winners -- more than double his opponent's total.
Leading by two sets but trailing 2-3 in the third overnight, Murray lost the third set and might have been demoralised by a marathon second game of the fourth when Nadal fought off seven break points to hold for 1-1.
Four successive unforced errors by Murray gave Nadal a break in the next game, but the Briton bounced back and brought the set back on serve in the sixth game.
Playing with urgency, Murray broke Nadal again in the 10th game to ride to the final with the biggest win of his career.
"I'm very relieved," said an emotional Murray, who won three hardcourt titles this year and tasted New York success as the junior champion in 2004.
"To come back after yesterday when I was two sets up, it was tough to sleep on. I'm glad I came through in the end."
Nadal said the rigours of a long season might have caught up with him. "Probably more than 84 matches, no?" the 22-year-old said about his biggest problem in the match.
"It's difficult every day to be fresh, so I know one day something is going to happen like yesterday."
Still, he gave Murray credit. "When he's playing aggressive, he can beat everybody," he said.
Murray recognised he was heading into unchartered territory against Federer in the final.
"I've played well against him in the past but I think a slam final is different than the matches I've played against him. He's won over 30 matches in a row here and it's something new for me."
Murray is well aware the impact a win here would have back in Britain but the Scot said this was a personal quest.
"Firstly, I want to win for myself, my family and my friends," he said. "And then if the popularity of tennis (in Britain) grows because of me doing well then that's great."
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)