2008, US Open
US Open, New York
August 25-September 7, 2008; 128 Draw (32 seeded); Surface – Hard
First round: (ESPN)
Rafael Nadal‘s first day in the Big Apple proved to be anything but a walk in the park. Seeded first in a major for the first time in his career, Nadal began his pursuit of tennis history Monday with a 7-6(4), 6-3, 7-6(4) victory over feisty German Bjorn Phau in the opening round of the U.S. Open. Nadal, the reigning French Open and Wimbledon champion, has never won this hardcourt Grand Slam. But the 22-year-old has surpassed Roger Federer as the top player in men’s tennis and has his sights set on becoming the first player since Rod Laver in 1969 to win the French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open in the same season. Nadal figured to have an easy time with the 28-year-old Phau, the world No. 136 who entered with a career 5-13 record in majors. But with Laver and Spanish golf star Sergio Garcia in attendance at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Phau continually pushed the world’s top-ranked player in a match that lasted 2 hours, 59 minutes. Nadal eventually overpowered the German in the 1st-set tie-break but was forced to his sideline early in the second set to receive treatment on his left ankle and foot. The delay apparently worked for Nadal, who methodically won the 2nd set. But Phau continued to irritate the top seed in the 3rd set, going up a break to take a 5:4 lead. Nadal broke back in the 10th game, and both players held serve in a two-game stretch that featured some scintillating volleys and aroused raucous applause from the capacity crowd. Although Nadal ultimately won the match, Phau undeniably made him work throughout the third-set tie-break, clawing to within 5:4. Nadal demonstrated his world-class form with two forehand winners on the match’s last two points. After winning for the 39th time in his last 40 matches, the Mallorca native pumped his fist and smashed a ball into the stands. James Blake took the court for the opening day’s final night match and was pushed to five sets by former No. 1 junior player Donald Young. No. 9 Blake won the final two games of the 5th set for a 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 victory. Blake blitzed through the first set, winning it in just 17 minutes. Young didn’t give in and eventually held in the 5th to make it 3:3 by saving a pair of break points. Young wasn’t as fortunate in the 9th game and Blake broke to take a 5:4 lead and served out the match to advance to the second round. Juan Martin del Potro, a sensational winner of four consecutive tournaments before the US Open two on clay, to on hardcourts), extended his winning streak albeit for one and a half sets was outplayed by his countryman Guillermo Canas. Del Potro came back from a 0:3* deficit in the 2nd set to win 4-6, 7-6(0), 6-4, 6-1. David Ferrer kicked off the tournament with a 7-6(1), 6-2, 6-2 victory over Martin Vassallo Arguello. It marked the fourth straight season that the 26-year-old Ferrer won his opening match at this event. He next will face German Andreas Beck, who defeated American John Isner in straight sets. While Ferrer struggled at times, sixth-seeded Andy Murray had no trouble in his first-round match, defeating Argentina’s Sergio Roitman, 6-3, 6-4, 6-0. A semifinalist here last season, Ferrer was sluggish in the opening set of a match that began at 11 a.m. He committed 17 unforced errors and a double-fault before rolling past the Vassallo Arguello in the tie-break. But perhaps it was the wake-up call that Ferrer needed, as the world No. 4 played nearly flawlessly in the next two sets. Ferrer rifled 31 winners against just 23 unforced errors and converted 48 percent of his return points in a match that lasted 2 hours, 12 minutes. Murray, who won last month’s Masters Series event in Cincinnati, carried his outstanding form into Monday’s match. The 21-year-old Scot fired nine aces and converted five break points in a match that lasted just 1 hour, 35 minutes. “I thought he played pretty well for, you know, about a set and a half. He was hitting his forehand really hard and making me do a bit of running,” Murray said. “It was a decent test and I came through it pretty well.” The only seeded players to lose Monday were No. 27 Feliciano Lopez and No. 29 Juan Monaco. Lopez was ousted by Jurgen Melzer 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 and Monaco lost to Spain’s Kei Nishikori, 6-2, 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 despite the Japanese was cramping in the last three games, when he led 3:2. Roger Federer, aiming for his fifth straight U.S. Open title, eliminated Maximo Gonzalez 6-3, 6-0, 6-3 on Tuesday. Gonzalez hung with the former world No. 1 player for a while before Federer won 10 straight games, a run spanning all three sets. Federer eased into the second round as an unfamiliar second seed. After 237 straight weeks at the top of the rankings, Federer is now behind Nadal for the first time in 4½ years. Not since the 2004 Australian Open had Federer been seeded anything other than No. 1 at a major. “I’m motivated to do very well here and for the rest of the season,” Federer said. Former champion Marat Safin laid into the “stupid rules” of tennis after a controversial foot fault call almost derailed his progress into the second round. Leading American Vince Spadea two sets to one but trailing 4:5 and 40/40 in the 4th, Safin foot-faulted on his second serve by apparently having his back foot partly across the center line at the beginning of his serving motion. The resultant double fault gave Spadea set point, which he clinched, but Safin bounced back well to win 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4. Winner of the 2000 U.S. Open, the Russian was in his customary belligerent mood when he greeted the media after the match. “It’s stupid rules that somebody made in, I don’t know, 1850,” Safin said. “Now they give me the problems with these things and it shouldn’t be that way.” The official rules state that a serve is a fault if a player, at any time in his service motion, touches or goes outside the imaginary extension of the center mark with either foot. Safin said it was ridiculous for a foot fault to be called from the other end of the court. “How can the guy see with sunglasses from 35 meters away on a foot fault? It doesn’t make any sense,” the 28-year-old said. Tommy Haas of Germany scored an early upset, rallying past 12th-seeded Richard Gasquet of France 6-7(3), 6-4, 5-7, 7-5, 6-2. Unseeded American Sam Querrey also made some early noise, ousting No. 22 Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-1, 6-2. Ivo Minar of the Czech Republic handed 20th-seeded German Nicolas Kiefer a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 4-1 (ret.) loss.
Second round: (ATP Staff)
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal powered past American qualifier Ryler DeHeart 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 on Thursday night at Flushing Meadows to secure his place in the US Open third round. Nadal held his opponent to just seven points total in the opening set, and succeeded in taking the two-sets lead in just 53 minutes. DeHeart jumped out to a 3:0* lead in the 3rd set, but the Spaniard promptly recovered the service break and broke the American again to set himself on the way to victory. In July, Nadal became the first player since Bjorn Borg in 1980 to capture Roland Garros and Wimbledon in the same year. The Hawaiian-born DeHeart, ranked No. 261, was playing in his first ATP-level event. He made his Grand Slam debut by defeating Belgian Olivier Rochus in a five-set first round match. His previous best professional result prior to this week had been the quarterfinals at four Challenger-level tournaments. Nadal will next face recent Washington finalist Viktor Troicki of Serbia, who was up 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, 3-0 in his second round match when German No. 25 seed Philipp Kohlschreiber retired. Nadal defeated the 22-year-old Troicki in straight sets in their first round match at the Australian Open. Troicki entered his US Open debut at a career-high ranking of No. 71. He has a 15-14 season record at the ATP-level. Fourth-seeded Spaniard David Ferrer endured a tough battle to progress to the third round of the US Open, recovering from a one-set deficit to edge past German Andreas Beck 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 7-6(5) on Thursday at Flushing Meadows. The Valencia resident served 11 aces and converted 4 of 14 break point chances in the match that lasted 2 hr., 57 min. The ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Valencia champion struggled in the lead-up to the US Open, winning just one match since reaching the semifinals at Bastad in early July. However, he enjoyed a Grand Slam breakthrough at the US Open last year, reaching his first semifinal after defeating Nadal in the fourth round before later falling to Djokovic. Ferrer next will face Kei Nishikori, who led 6-1, 7-5 when Roko Karanusic retired. He is through to the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time. In-form Argentine Juan Martin del Potro extended his winning streak to 21 straight matches as he defeated Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci 4-6, 6-1, 7-5, 6-3 in just under three hours. The 19-year-old is the only player to have clinched his first four ATP titles in as many tournaments, winning on clay at Stuttgart and Kitzbuhel and on hard courts at Los Angeles and Washington. He next faces Gilles Simon after the French No. 16 seed booked his place in the third round by converting six of seven break points to knock out Jose Acasuso 6-4, 6-1, 6-4. In one of the most entertaining matches of the second round, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga eliminated Carlos Moya with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory. In the 6th game of the 4th set, Tsonga chasing a dropshot, jumped over the net and run towards the Spaniard, who looked a bit scared, but both players exchanged a high-5. No. 32 seed Gael Monfils moved through to the third round at the US Open for the first time by defeating Russian Evgeny Korolev 6-2, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4. In his last Grand Slam appearance, earlier this year at Roland Garros, the 21-year-old Monfils achieved his best performance at a major by reaching the semifinals. Scottish No. 8 seed Andy Murray came through a testing four-set encounter against Michael Llodra, defeating the Frenchman 6-4, 1-6, 7-5, 7-6(7) to reach the US Open third round on Thursday at Flushing Meadows. The Dunblane native produced an impressive display against the resistant Llodra, firing 48 winners to just 13 unforced errors, although he did drop serve on four occasions and was forced to save two set points in the 4th set tie-break before securing victory with a powerful forehand winner after 2 hr., 33 min. “I was very happy with the match,” said Murray. “I thought I hit the ball from the back of the court very well. I didn’t feel like I was making many mistakes from the baseline. Not too many unforced errors. He’s a really tough guy to play against, and I was happy I won in four sets.” The 21-year-old Murray is making his fourth straight appearance at the US Open and enjoyed his best performance in 2006 when he reached the fourth round (l. to Davydenko). Murray now will face Austrian Jurgen Melzer, who enjoyed a very convincing 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Jiri Vanek. “He’s a tough guy to play against,” said Murray of Melzer. “Doesn’t give you too much rhythm. But I feel like I’m playing well just now. I’m confident and I look forward to the match.” American No. 9 seed James Blake was granted a place in the third round after Steve Darcis was forced to retire with a lower back injury. The Belgian captured the first set 6-4, but Blake had just leveled the match with a 6-3 second set and taken a 1-0 lead in the third set before Darcis was forced to concede. The 28-year-old Blake now will face countryman and close friend Mardy Fish, who dispatched No. 24 seed Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the US Open third round for the first time. The two have played three times before, with Blake commanding a 2-1 head-to-head advantage after winning their most recent clash in the New Haven final last year. Roger Federer needed to work hard before dismissing Thiago Alves, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4. It was Federer’s 600th career win and his 29th straight at the Open. Federer is on course for a semifinal matchup with No.3 seed Novak Djokovic, who earlier this year ended Federer’s streak of 10 straight Grand Slam final appearances when he knocked Federer out in the semifinals at the Australian Open. Friday, Djokovic followed Federer onto the court at Ashe, where he dispatched American Robert Kendrick in straight sets, 7-6(8), 6-4, 6-4. Djokovic was dominant with his service game, but struggled to overcome Kendrick’s blasts, which averaged 120 mph and topped out at 135. Still, last year’s finalist did what he had to do. In the 1st set tie-break, Djokovic led 6:2, then saved two set points at 6:7* & 7:8. On Friday night, another fearless opponent stepped across the threshold. Ernests Gulbis, a 19-year-old Latvian with spectacular skills, was Andy Roddick‘s second-round opponent. Gulbis left the rousing match as a 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 7-5 loser, but when it was over he was no longer a teenager. Gulbis stunned Roddick, winning 15 of his first 16 service points, including six aces. Serving at 4:3 in the 2nd set, he saved a break point with a fantastic stretch slice backhand and held for a 5:3 lead. After Roddick held, Gulbis was two points from winning the 2nd set at 30-all when Roddick ran down a drop shot and hooked in a forehand. Unnerved, Gulbis sent a forehand long and Roddick was pumping both arms, sending the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium into convulsions. “That was the turning point in the match,” Gulbis  conceded. “If I had won the second set, I would have felt mentally and physically better.” Both guys celebrate their birthdays on August 30; they started that match on August 29, but finished after midnight. “He was definitely outplaying me in the first two sets. I felt like a little kid out here playing against him,” Roddick said. “Tonight was one of those that I won on effort, by sticking around.”
Third round: Lisa Kennelly
British number one Andy Murray teetered on the brink of defeat before coming back to beat Jurgen Melzer 6-7(5), 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-1, 6-3 at the US Open. Murray played a good opening set, but failed to take his chances. Twice he had set points at 6:5 but Melzer first delivered a brave backhand down the line and then hammered down a huge serve which Murray could not return. Murray had chances in the tie-break, taking a 4:3 lead, but it was Melzer who snatched it with a well-placed drop shot which his opponent could do nothing with. The 2nd set followed a similar pattern, with Murray forging four opportunities to break but taking none. At 2:2 and break point down, Melzer flung himself at a forehand which Murray was convinced landed long – but with Hawk-Eye unavailable on Grandstand, the Scot had no way of proving it and he was left seething. By contrast, Melzer, whose brutal hitting frequently had Murray on the back foot, earned his first break point of the match at 5:4, and took it when Murray sent a backhand volley into the tramlines. The British number one was, by now, fuming, constantly directing his ire at his support camp, his shoulders slumped. But he somehow rallied, firing a backhand return down the line to break for the first time – at the 10th opportunity – to take a 3:2 lead in the 3rd set. He could not hang on, though, as a miserable drop shot handed the break back as he served for the set, and he looked to be heading for the exit as an ace gave Melzer a 5:4 lead in the tie-break. But Murray’s serve, which would become an increasingly potent weapon as the match progressed, got him out of trouble, with two huge first deliveries giving him set point before a backhand winner earned him the set. Having been so close to a superb win, the big-hitting Melzer tired in the 4th set, allowing it to slip away easily once he had been broken early. The Austrian mustered one final challenge when he carved out two break points at 2:1 but Murray hammered down two massive serves and escaped. And once Murray broke at 3:3, the energy drained from Melzer and the Briton finally sealed victory after 3 hours and 52 minutes. Murray celebrated by showing off his biceps as he did after recovering from two sets down against Richard Gasquet at Wimbledon earlier this year. World number one Rafael Nadal reached the fourth round of the US Open, winning the final 11 games to complete a 6-4, 6-3, 6-0 victory over Serbian Viktor Troicki. The Spaniard Nadal, chasing a third consecutive Grand Slam and his first at Flushing Meadows, won for the 41st time in 42 matches. “I’m very happy. I knew it was a tough match,” Nadal said. “He’s a big server and very tough.” Wimbledon and French Open champion Nadal now faces 55th-ranked Sam Querrey after the American beat Croatian 14th seed Ivo Karlovic 7-6(5), 7-6(5), 6-2. Querrey, who won his first career title this year at Las Vegas, fired 20 aces and made only 13 unforced errors without surrendering a service break to make the last 16 at a Grand Slam for the first time. Nadal beat Querrey in three sets in 2006 at Cincinnati in their only prior meeting. “I won the first set. That was cool. After the first set I was pretty pumped up,” Querrey said. “I’ve gotten a lot better since then. He has too. So I can go out there and rip away. I have nothing to lose. “Pretty much it’s just step up and rip it.” The 10th seed Stanislas Wawrinka who helped Federer to win a gold medal for Switzerland with a doubles triumph at the Olympics, had a tough struggle before overcoming Italian Flavio Cipolla 5-7, 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-0, 6-4 in 4 hours 14 minutes. Wawrinka lost his first tie-break after winning 10 in a row. Cipolla didn’t shake hands with the Swiss because accused him on mocking an injury (Cipolla was limping at the end of the match). For Mardy Fish, who will soon wed Stacey Gardner, former lawyer and current star of the TV show, “Deal Or No Deal,” the upshot wasn’t just a rousing 6-3, 6-3, 7-6(4) triumph, but his first trip to the Open’s round of 16 in his nine visits. For the ninth-seeded James Blake, the local kid and perennial crowd favorite, it marks his earliest Flushing Meadows exit in five years, and the conclusion of a most dispiriting tournament. Fish, 26, was ranked as high as No. 17 four years ago, and is a big hitter and huge server whose weapons never quite nudged him into the game’s elite. He knocked off a guy named Federer earlier this year, so it’s not as if he hasn’t played with the best, although the 35th-ranked Fish never looked better than he did against Blake Saturday night, smacking 55 winners and 16 aces, and dictating play throughout. “Tonight was tough,” said Fish, who had never played a night match at Ashe before Saturday night. “I never want to see James lose. It feels like he has 20,000 friends (here) screaming right in my ear.” While his friend readies for a round-of-16 match against angular Frenchman Gael Monfils – the No. 32 seed who schooled No. 7 David Nalbandian at Louis Armstrong Stadium, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2, earlier yesterday – Blake was still experiencing the numbing aftershocks, shaken by his effort in a place where he usually shines. Kei Nishikori, 18, is ranked 126th in the world but took a two-set lead and then after dropping the next two sets, then won the fifth by breaking David Ferrer in the final game of the 3-hour, 32-minute match, 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 2-6, 7-5. Ferrer’s first 5-set defeat after 8 consecutive wins! “Right now I’m very happy,” Nishikori said. “That’s the only words I can say now.” Nishikori, who was born in Japan but now trains at the famed Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida, is the youngest man to reach fourth round since Marat Safin did it 10 years ago. He is the first Japanese man to reach the round of 16 in the Open era, and only the second Japanese man to reach the fourth round at any Grand Slam (Shuzo Matsuoka made the quarters of Wimbledon in 1995.) “He’s a very good player, young player, plays really well, serves very well,” Ferrer said. “I fight a lot, (but) Nishikori plays better than me.” The match came down to the final set, as Nishikori broke Ferrer and went up 5:2. Ferrer held serve to make it, 5:3, but then Nishikori had a match point and the opportunity to win. Nerves got the better of him, as Ferrer broke his serve to make it 5:4 and then held serve to tie it at 5:5. Nishikori was able to regain his poise, holding serve to take a 6:5 lead and then pushing Ferrer to deuce in the 12th game. After Nishikori finally sliced the winning groundstroke past the 26-year-old, he dropped his racket in disbelief, gazing up at the sky. “I could (have) given up the fifth set, he started playing great in the third and fourth set, and I was tired, my legs were almost cramping,” Nishikori said. “But I tried to think, ‘I’m playing David, he’s No. 4 in the world, and playing five sets with him.’ And I felt like kind of happy and I think more positive. And that’s why I think I could fight, fight through everything.” Next up for the Asian sensation is Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro, who stretched his win streak to 22 matches by outlasting France’s Gilles Simon 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 over 3 hours, 47 minutes. Novak Djokovic reached the fourth round of the U.S. Open with a tougher-than-expected victory over 30th-seeded Marin Cilic. Djokovic had wasted a 1st set set point before got past Cilic 6-7(7), 7-5, 6-4, 7-6(0) after 3 hours, 52 minutes. Djokovic served for the match at 5:4 (40/15) in the 4th set, but he wasted two match points and was broken by Cilic, a 19-year-old Croatian who was playing in his first U.S. Open. Twelve-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer won his 30th consecutive US Open match, defeating Czech Radek Stepanek 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 to book a date with Russian Igor Andreev, who eliminated Spanish 13th seed Fernando Verdasco 6-2, 6-4, 6-4. Also advancing to the last 16 was eighth seed Andy Roddick of the US, who defeated Italy’s Andreas Steppi 6-2, 7-5, 7-6(4). Gilles Muller survived second consecutive five-setter being close to lose in straight sets as he outlasted Nicolas Almagro 6-7(3), 3-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(6), 7-5 under 4 hours, serving 38 aces (Almagro 22). The Spaniard, who squandered a 6:4 lead in the 4th set tie-break, lost his serve only once in the entire match – in the 12th game of the final set! One round earlier, Muller fired 36 aces defeating Tommy Haas 2-6, 2-6, 7-6(5), 6-3, 6-3 being two points away from defeat at 5-all in the 3rd set tie-break.
Fourth round: Chuck Culpepper
Rafael Nadal withstood his first test at this U.S. Open, shifting into another gear to beat Sam Querrey 6-2, 5-7, 7-6(2), 6-3 on Monday and match his best result at the tournament that’s always bedeviled him. Playing for the sixth year at Flushing Meadows, the No. 1 Nadal rallied to reach the quarterfinals. He got quite a workout – and a scare – from his unseeded 20-year-old opponent. “Very tough,” Nadal said. “Sam is a big player, a big server. He has a great future.” Down 6:5 in the 3rd set, Nadal suddenly flashed the form that won at Wimbledon, the French Open and the Olympics. Hitting harder, grunting louder and moving in closer, he quickly forced a tie-break and jumped to celebrate. Nadal won the final four points to take the tie-break and later served out the match. “In every tournament you have one bad day, that’s the normal thing,” Nadal said. “When you are playing not your best, the important thing is to win. I did today.” Nadal’s tally of unforced errors was unusually high at 41, and his six double-faults outnumbered his five aces. But he said he was pleased to have pulled out his best shots during the third-set tie-break. “Probably I am not in the freshest moment in my life, but I am fine,” said Nadal, who has won 42 of his last 43 matches in a hectic schedule. Nadal next plays unseeded Mardy Fish, who reached the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open for the first time with a 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 win over No. 32 Gael Monfils. “If he’s aggressive and comes in at the right times, especially on Nadal’s backhand, I think he could have a shot,” Querrey said of Fish. “He’s got to be aggressive and take chances. He can’t go baseline to baseline with Rafa.” While Monfils was seeded and Fish was not, they were hardly separated in the world rankings – Monfils was 33rd, Fish was 35th. Also advancing: No. 17 Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, who ended the run of Kei Nishikori, the first Japanese man to reach the U.S. Open’s fourth round in the 40-year Open era. Del Potro won the contest between teens 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 for his 23rd consecutive victory. Nishikori jumped to a 3:0* lead before DelPo won 11 out of 13 games. The Argentine led 5:2* in the 2nd set, but Nishikori broke back and was serving at 40/0 to level the set. Del Potro will face No. 6 Andy Murray, who beat 10th-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka 6-1, 6-3, 6-3. Tempers flared when the two played in Rome in May. Murray claimed Del Potro insulted his mother during a first-round match. Judy Murray provided vocal support for her son from the stands. Del Potro nearly hit Murray in the head with a ball in the second set. The Argentine retired while trailing 1:0 in the 3rd set. Murray was asked Monday if he was surprised Del Potro hadn’t tried to clear the air. “I’ve known him since we were really young,” Murray said. “Doesn’t really bother me. I wasn’t great friends with him before. I don’t need to be friends with him now. “So, no, I’m not surprised.” Murray, who reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinals at Wimbledon earlier this summer, dominated Wawrinka in every department of the game, racing to victory in 1 hour, 49 minutes. “It’s always tough playing against one of your friends,” Murray said in an on-court interview. “But this is the fourth round of the U.S. Open, it’s my favorite tournament, so I had to put friendship aside just for tonight.”
A long, stirring slog of a match that wore on through the Tuesday dinner hour came garnished with a most unusual soundtrack. It featured the repeated, guttural yells of one Roger Federer, the Swiss maestro long given to silent dominance and dominant silence. It had Federer as a sort of mini-Connors impersonating a jackhammer and vibrating his body in a double fist pump after a pivotal break of service in a 5th set. And it had the reminder through Federer’s primal screams that among all tennis majors, the U.S. Open most often strays from tennis toward something more akin to wrestling. In the rowdy wrestling ring they call Arthur Ashe Stadium, it finally had Federer grinding through his newfound imperfections and his 60 unforced errors in a hairy fourth round, wriggling out of 3 hours 32 minutes with the excellent Russian Igor Andreev by 6-7(5), 7-6(5), 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. Then, it had Federer, winner of the last four titles here, crediting the crowd with supplying “you know, that feeling of going crazy,” and admitting that the joys of operating from No. 2 in the world can trump the cold business of No. 1. “Maybe for a while it was quite, always the same for me, go on the court, you win all the time, so maybe you don’t take it for granted all that much anymore,” he said. You especially don’t take it for granted in the tennis wrestling that carried a frantic Tuesday in Flushing Meadow. Federer was *4:5 (15/30) in the 2nd set when he made a backhand winner. He yelled while at the net after he hunted down an Andreev drop shot in the 5th set to flip a gorgeous lob into Andreev’s backhand corner, then watched Andreev’s backhand fly wide for a break and 2:0. And he yelled after his final serve-and-volley caused Andreev’s last shot to sail and curl long. “I was just really pleased with my fighting spirit,” he said, a comment perfect for a wrestler. A fine melee unfolded over in Louis Armstrong Stadium concurrent with Federer-Andreev, and it sent a Luxembourgian qualifier ranked No. 130, Gilles Muller, opposite Federer in the quarterfinals. Muller chased off two-time semifinalist and No. 5-ranked Nikolay Davydenko by 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(10) in 3 hours 7 minutes during which Muller warded off seven set points in the fourth set, Davydenko broke four rackets and the two staged a carnival of a 4th-set tiebreaker that Muller, 25, called “the most exciting tiebreaker that I’ve ever played in my entire life.” Muller became the first qualifier in the US Open quarterfinals since 1999 (Nicolas Escude). The Luxembourgian barely escaped defeat in his opening match of the qualifying rounds as he defeated Lamine Ouahab 6-7(9), 7-6(6), 7-5! No. 3 Novak Djokovic grappled 3 hours 44 minutes with No. 15 Tommy Robredo, winning, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3, and citing injuries to seemingly most parts of his body, which Robredo found melodramatic, saying, “After every time he was asking for a trainer, he was running like hell and he was making the shot. So did I trust him? No. No.” It seemed unfitting that No. 8 Andy Roddick would ride his swift revival into a juicy quarterfinal with Djokovic in a 6-2, 6-4, 6-1 nighttime ravaging of No. 11 Fernando Gonzalez. Roddick needed just 87 minutes. He skipped the Beijing Olympics to concentrate on the North American hardcourt season; blitzed 11th-seeded Gonzalez by hammering eight aces and winning 90 percent of his first-serve points. Roddick made just seven unforced errors and blasted 88 winners to 53 for Gonzalez on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court. After the match, Roddick compared his victory to a boxing match. “It was maybe a standing 10 count,” said Roddick, who feels his game is rounding into shape just at the right time. “But even when I was up two breaks I wanted to just play one good game at a time.”
As late Wednesday night turned to early Thursday morning at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Mardy Fish kept with his high-octane, high-risk game plan against the No. 1 player in the world. Fish, the upstart American with the No. 35 ranking, knew he could never outrun or out-grind or outlast Rafael Nadal, so he would try to out-serve and out-volley him. The plan worked splendidly for a set in the U.S. Open quarterfinals, and then got undone by the unrelenting gears of Nadal, the 22-year-old Spaniard from the island of Mallorca, who scored a 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 victory that ended just after 2 a.m. It was the third-latest finish in Open history. After splitting the first two sets, Fish and Nadal stayed on serve through the first six games of the 3rd, when Nadal whacked a forehand winner down the line for 15/15, then watched Fish net consecutive volleys for 15/40. Fish drilled a service winner, but Nadal forged the break with a forehand pass, prompting him to pump his fist and do a midcourt hop in his red clamdiggers before he ran to his changeover chair. He made the break hold up, and closed out the set three games later, Fish netting a forehand on the final point. The win moves Nadal into the semis, and possibly a third straight Slam in an event that has been more difficult for him than any other. “Well, for sure I am going to try my best,” Nadal said. “I would love to win here.” Andy Murray overcame Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro in 3 hours 58 minutes. The British number one produced some wonderful shots but had trouble closing out a tight match before winning 7-6(2), 7-6(1), 4-6, 7-5. The Scot, facing Del Potro for the first time since he accused the teenager of insulting his mother Judy during a Masters Series match in May, got the upper hand when he broke serve in game two. But after going 4:1 up he saw Del Potro power back to win the next four games and serve for the opening set. Murray produced a glorious winner to break the Argentinian’s serve and then dominated the tie-break to win the opener. The 2nd set went with serve until Murray broke at 5:5 to serve for the set, only to then throw away the opportunity when Del Potro broke to love. It was an uncharacteristically lacklustre game from the Scot but he rallied magnificently in the tie-break to take a commanding hold on the match. With Del Potro appearing nervous, irritable and lost for ideas, Murray broke for a 3:1 lead in the 3rd set and looked to have one foot in the last four. But Del Potro showed character to break straight back and, after needing treatment on his knee injury, powered his way to three straight games and the set (having saved two mini-match points at 3:4). When Murray dropped his serve in the opening game of the 4th set it looked like the ascendancy was with Del Potro, who looked to have shaken off his knee problem. The match again swung, though, with Murray breaking back and then surviving a nervous service game to go 3:2 up (saved three break points). Both players showed signs of nerves, mixing unforced errors with top-class winners, and they exchanged breaks once more – Del Potro led 4:3, but Murray took another two games and sealed the victory in the 12th game breaking Del Potro to 30 when the Argentinian made a backhand error trying to pass the Briton. Del Potro lost his first match after winning 23 in a row! The blemishes are there, and the cloak of invincibility he once wore is now more a shroud of uncertainty. But it’s the semifinal of a major tennis tournament, so of course Roger Federer is there. The great Swiss champion, looking to win his fifth consecutive U.S. Open to salvage what has been a most frustrating year, marched onward yesterday, beating Gilles Muller, 7-6(5), 6-4, 7-6(5), to earn a spot in the final four of a major tournament for the 18th consecutive time to extend his own remarkable record. “I’m happy to keep the semifinal streak alive,” he said. “That’s a huge streak for such a long time. I’ve played well this tournament, so I’m really happy to keep it alive and give myself an opportunity to again be in the final four. I hope this time I can take it a step further than I did in Paris or Wimbledon.” Yesterday Federer needed seven set points to win the 1st set, broke the big-serving Muller only once, and trailed 3:5 in the second tiebreaker before reeling off four of the next five points to advance to his fifth consecutive U.S. Open semifinal. Muller, the surprise package of the tournament, continued to serve strongly in the 2nd set but, again, Federer chose his moment to pounce – breaking at 4:4 and serving out to extend his lead. Federer never looked like being broken during the 3rd set but he had to wait for another tie-break before sealing his victory. This time Muller looked well-placed, leading 4:1 and 5:3, but two mistakes on serve proved crucial and Federer won four straight points to progress… Ignoring a cry of “double fault” that rained down from the upper deck of Arthur Ashe Stadium and was meant to strike him down like a bolt of lightning, Novak Djokovic tossed the ball and uncorked a 125-mile-an-hour serve. His opponent, the American Andy Roddick, sent the forehand return long, sealing Djokovic’s 6-2, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(5) quarterfinal victory Thursday night at the United States Open. Arthur Ashe Stadium is one of tennis’ biggest stages, but Roddick had turned the cavernous space into his own personal phone booth in his first four matches, morphing from the mortal who fell short in pre-Open tournaments in Washington, Los Angeles and Toronto into a No. 8 seed of steel with an omnipotent serve and a laser forehand. It was a strange end to a match that appeared headed for a fifth set when Roddick, serving at 5:4, earned two quick points on serves of over 140 m.p.h. Roddick’s serves had scorched his path to his third consecutive Open quarterfinal, but then it fizzled. He double-faulted twice and two points later Djokovic secured the break with a lob. The turning point in the tie-break came when Djokovic engaged Roddick in an 15-shot rally that ended when Roddick dumped a backhand drop shot into the net to give Djokovic match point. It was a tough way to bow out for Roddick, who had dropped only one set in his first four matches. “He’s great at winning those tough matches,” Roddick said. “I’m disappointed that I spotted him a set before I actually got my feet under me, but you know, I’m happy with the effort I made to try to come back.” Roddick double-faulted on the opening point and lost his serve three times in the 1st set, which Djokovic closed out in 28 minutes. It was the worst of starts for Roddick, who had more emphatic racket tosses (one) in the set than he did aces (zero).
Semifinals: Howard Feindrich
Roger Federer beat Novak Djokovic 6-3, 5-7, 7-5, 6-2 to move within one victory of a fifth consecutive U.S. Open championship and 13th Grand Slam title overall on Saturday. “One more match is all I need,” he said. Looking more confident and supremely competent than he had all tournament, Federer smacked a 130 mph serve to set up a forehand winner and end the first set. By then, Federer had won 20 of 24 points on his serve and accumulated 13 winners and three unforced errors. What about Djokovic? His game and his demeanor were far duller than usual. “It was important to stay grounded,” Federer said. “I knew the tough times were going to arrive.” The real Djokovic showed up in the 2nd set, striking shots more crisply, pressuring Federer more consistently. When Federer served while trailing 6:5, Djokovic earned three set points, three chances to pull even. On the first, Djokovic sailed a forehand long. On the second, Federer wrong-footed Djokovic with a cross-court forehand winner. A year ago in the U.S. Open final, Djokovic led 6:5 in each of the opening two sets. In the first, he held five set points. In the second, he held two. He capitalized on zero, prompting this postmatch one-liner: “My next book is going to be called, ‘Seven set Points.”‘ But Djokovic is no longer as inexperienced, nor Federer as invincible. This time, Djokovic seized his third set point, returning a 121 mph (195 kph) serve and watching as Federer stepped up for what should have been an easy shot and rushed a forehand long. All tied. The 3rd set progressed steadily, neither man asserting himself, until Djokovic served at 5:5, 30-all. As he went into his service motion there, a spectator called out, eliciting a glare and words of disgust from Djokovic. Looking rattled, Djokovic put a forehand into the net, setting up break point. When Djokovic began e next point with a fault, someone yelled, “Go, Roger!” When a cross-court backhand forced a long volley from Djokovic, Federer had the break, a 6:5 lead – and a rousing chorus of support from the stands. “Roger is still there, you know. And even though people are talking about him not playing so well his year, he’s still very consistent,” Djokovic said. “That’s his strength, you know. Whenever he needs to play well, he plays his best.” And so it was that the roar grew even louder a game later, when Djokovic hit a smash that would have ended the point against nearly anyone. Next to the blue wall behind a baseline, Federer stretched and jumped and carved a winner that seemed to stun Djokovic. Federer raised a fist imperiously, and five points later he danced in delight. Federer broke for a 3:2 lead in the 4th set, then used four aces to hold to 4:2. By now, Djokovic looked weary, sucking air between points, and when he sent a volley wide at the end of a 19-stroke point, Federer broke again for 5:2… Andy Murray has reached the final of the US Open with a thrilling 6-2, 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-4 win over world number one Rafael Nadal. Murray outmatched Nadal from the baseline and with a series of magnificent backhands to stun the reigning Wimbledon and French Open champion and set up a final clash with Federer, who has not lost at Flushing Meadows since 2003. Murray had been in control throughout the rain-shortened contest on Saturday and when play resumed today he was two sets ahead but a break down in the 3rd set (2:3). Nadal held that break to take the set, and the momentum looked to be slipping back in the world number one’s favour when he saved seven break points in the 2nd game of the 4th set before immediately breaking Murray and holding his own to take a two-game lead. However Murray consistently looked the fresher and more inventive player, and he recovered from 0/30 in the 5th game to hold serve and regain the mental initiative. In the next game it was Nadal’s turn to lose concentration at deuce, failing to put away a backhand winner at the net with a weak shot into the net and Murray seized the moment to break back at 3:3. He secured the break back in style with a service game to love, taking the game with a brilliant backhand winner from off the ground as Nadal looked to have saved the break with a backhand volley at the net. Now it was Nadal who needed something special to stay in the match against a rejuvenated Murray, but he had to dig deep just to hold serve, saving the Scot’s ninth break point of the set. Murray held his serve comfortably, moving to 5:4 with his 21st ace of the match and just one game from reaching his first grand slam final. There was an early stroke of luck for Murray as he won the first point on a net cord that dropped onto the line and when Nadal clipped the net he was able to steal and punch a winner past the world number one. At 40/30, Murray saved game point by winning a superb rally and he earned match point by winning another after coming to the net and putting away a forehand volley. Nadal tried a drop shot that Murray scampered to reach and he sealed victory with a straightforward backhand winner. “It’s awesome to beat him, a great feeling,” said Murray afterwards. “He’s beaten me five times in a row, so that was tough, and to do it in a semi meant it was really difficult. With the rain delay yesterday, and it was windy today, there were a lot of different things but I’m happy I came through in the end.” About his final opponent he added: “He’s probably the greatest player ever, so to get the chance to play against him in a Slam final is an honor. But I’ve played well against him in the past and hopefully… I’ll do that again tomorrow.” In the crucial 2nd set, Nadal saved break points in three different games and led 5:4* in the tie-break.
The handwritten letters and the e-mails, the care packages and – get this – the instructional DVDs began reaching Roger Federer early in the season, after a bout of mononucleosis precipitated the end of his streak of 10 consecutive Grand Slam finals. The volume increased after Federer lost the French Open and Wimbledon finals. From all around the world they arrived, some to his parents’ house in Switzerland, some to his agent, some to his hotels. They came from retired players and from current coaches, from doctors, from fans. They offered good wishes, medical advice, even tennis advice. Everyone figured Federer needed help, and everyone figured they knew how to help. Turns out Federer was just fine. Turns out he still knew how to win a major tournament. He proved that Monday night, easily beating Andy Murray 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 to win a fifth consecutive U.S. Open championship and 13th Grand Slam title overall. “I felt like I was invincible for a while again,” said Federer, the only man in tennis history to win five straight titles at two major events. He moved within one Grand Slam title of tying Pete Sampras‘ record of 14. “I always knew that if I were to get one Slam under my belt, especially the last one, things weren’t looking that bad, like everybody was talking about,” Federer said. “I didn’t feel I was under pressure to prove myself in trying to win here, but this definitely feels very sweet.” Nothing like the bitter taste left by his lopsided loss to nemesis Rafael Nadal in the French Open final. Or by his heartbreakingly narrow loss to Nadal – 9-7 in the fifth set in fading light – in the Wimbledon final, denying Federer a sixth straight title there. Those, plus a semifinal loss at the Australian Open, were among Federer’s 12 defeats by August in 2008, more than he had in any entire season from 2004-07. He also arrived in New York with only two titles from minor events and allowed Nadal to end Federer’s record 4½-year reign at No. 1 last month. “Maybe you can’t win everything,” said his father, Robert Federer. “After the French Open, you could see many [negative] comments saying, ‘Federer is gone,’ ‘Federer will never win another Grand Slam.’ And Federer proved the opposite.” His son heard those comments and thought about them. “I was aware of it. I mean, I’m a bit disappointed. Sometimes, to a point, a bit annoyed,” Federer said, mentioning the letters he received. “People come out of the closet and think they can start helping me now. It’s just a pain,” he continued. “For me, this sort of puts them to rest a little bit and calms down the phones at my parents’ [home] a little bit.” Whatever motivation he might have derived from perceived slights, Federer was absolutely superb against Murray, stretching his winning streak at Flushing Meadows to 34 matches. The sixth-seeded Murray upset Nadal in the semifinals to reach his first Grand Slam final and entered Monday with a 2-1 record against Federer. But Murray never really had a chance. “I came up against, in my opinion, the best player ever to play the game,” said Murray, who tried to give Britain its first men’s major champion in 72 years. “He definitely set the record straight today.” When Federer was winning his first U.S. Open title in 2004, Murray was taking the U.S. Open junior trophy. Federer, coincidentally, was also 21 when he played his first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon in 2003. Except Federer beat Mark Philippoussis that day and continues to win major championship matches against everyone except a certain Spaniard: Federer is 2-4 against Nadal in Grand Slam finals, 11-0 against anyone else. Against Murray, he accumulated a 36-16 advantage in winners and won the point on 31 of 44 trips to the net. His volleying might have been helped by his work winning a gold medal in doubles at the Beijing Olympics, a result he also credited with boosting his confidence. Murray – whose ranking rises to No. 4 – stood about 10 feet behind the baseline to return serves, exactly the way he did against Nadal in their two-day, rain-interrupted semifinal. And Murray displayed flashes of the get-to-every-ball defense he used against Nadal, including one pretty flick of a lob by Federer with his back to the net. But Federer, who had an extra day to rest because his semifinal wasn’t affected by Tropical Storm Hanna, was simply too much for Murray. “Seeing him play like that made me very, very happy for him,” said Federer’s part-time coach, Jose Higueras, “because he’s a great champion and he’s gone through some rough times.” Only once did Murray throw a scare into Federer, taking 11 of 12 points to go from 2:0 down in the 2nd set to 2-all and 0/40 on Federer’s serve. On the second break chance, a 14-stroke rally ended with Murray missing a backhand. TV replays, however, showed one of Federer’s shots should have been called out – had it been, Murray would have led 3:2. “Not necessarily would have won the match or anything,” Murray said, “but it would have given me a bit of confidence.” But there was no call there, and no reprieve, because Federer stayed steady and held serve. “After that,” Federer said, “I began to play freely, the way I usually do.” In the next game, Murray began clutching at his right knee and looking up at his substantial support group in the stands, a gathering that included his mother, two coaches and two trainers. Murray, though, said the knee had no bearing on the outcome. This is what made the difference: “He made very few mistakes,” Murray said. Federer closed the second set by extending a 10-stroke point with terrific court coverage and then – shifting from defense to offense in a blink – delivering a forehand passing shot. Federer turned to his guest box – which included his pal, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour – and bellowed, punching down with his right fist. This is how he is supposed to play. This is how these Grand Slam finals are supposed to go. When Federer broke serve for the seventh time, ending the match, he rolled around with glee on the blue court. Instead of heading into the off-season wondering what went wrong, the 27-year-old Federer can look ahead with optimism. When the men met at the net, Murray felt compelled to share a thought with Federer. “I told him that he had, you know, a phenomenal year,” Murray said, “regardless of what anyone said.” Federer’s 56th title. Stats of the final