Stanislas Wawrinka captured a marathon third game in the fifth set of his US Open semi-final with Novak Djokovic, but the effort expended to hold serve over 21 minutes set the stage for his defeat.
World number one Djokovic advanced to his 12th Grand Slam final with a 2-6, 7-6 (7/4), 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 triumph after four hours and nine minutes, but only after battling back once Wawrinka won the epic 30-point, 12-deuce game.
"It was back and forth, but even though I lost that game, I felt like, 'OK, he's getting a little bit more tired and maybe this is my chance to step in, and that's what I did," Djokovic said.
Wawrinka was weary while Djokovic was nervous, especially as he went through break point after break point failing to capitalize.
"That game, I was already quite tired," Wawrinka said. "I was already quite dead physically. I was just trying to stay with him and to fight and to give everything that I had in my body. But was tough, tough fifth set for sure."
Wawrinka, playing in his first Grand slam semi-final, denied the six-time Grand Slam champion's first break chance with a forehand winner, thwarted the next with a service winner and Djokovic netted a backhand to squander a third.
"He was quite nervous," Wawrinka said. "It was not easy to keep the level quite high. But for me it was just important to fight and not to let him go and not to lose 6-1 or 6-2, but just to try to get every game I can."
Both men sensed that more than a game was at stake as the tension grew.
"I was thinking, 'Whoever wins this game is going to win this match,'" said Djokovic.
Two more break chances went begging, a Wawrinka backhand winner erasing one and another netted Djokovic backhand dispatching the other.
"I had points I played, especially that third game in the fifth set, where we were in the rally and I was able to go for the shot and I didn't and he did," Djokovic said.
"I just tried to hang on and fight and be mentally tough and believe all the way through I can actually win."
At one point, Wawrinka had chased a ball in vain along the baseline and ended his run by sitting on a small protective barrier just to enjoy the scene he and Djokovic had created as the crowd cheered.
That inspired both players to wave their arms, enticing the crowd into roars and a standing ovation for the display.
"It was a long game for both, for sure," Wawrinka said. "I saw that the people were starting to get into it, and I asked them to take a little bit more time and enjoy the moment."
Djokovic added, "You want to have that. It's a necessary support you need to kind of lift you up, to give you wind in the back. It's a pleasure to play in front of such a crowd."
Wawrinka finally ended matters with a service winner and the crowd responded with a standing ovation typically reserved for the end of matches.
"It was just a good feeling to see that the people were enjoying the match and they were completely into that match and hoping for still a good fifth set," Wawrinka said. "It was a really good atmosphere. It was quite fun."