Federer avoids upset, will meet Roddick next
AP Tennis Writer
NEW YORK – Roger Federer was scuffling against a Spanish lefty – no, not that one – at the U.S. Open on Monday night. He lost the first set to Feliciano Lopez, barely won the second, then trailed love-40 to start the third.
And then Federer did the sort of remarkable thing that only Federer does: He won the next 35 points he served.
Answering every question Lopez posed with an exclamation point, Federer took control of the third set and the match, coming back to win 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 in the fourth round at Flushing Meadows.
Asked about that 35-point run, Lopez rolled his eyes and said, “I mean, it’s tough. I’m playing against Roger Federer.” His voice then trailed off, as if that should be explanation enough.
Next up for the No. 1-ranked Federer, bidding to become the first man to win four consecutive U.S. Open titles since the 1920s: a quarterfinal against No. 5 Andy Roddick, the 2003 champion and the runner-up last year.
Federer is 13-1 against Roddick.
“It’s a great record, but it doesn’t help me,” Federer said. “We’ll see how it goes. Andy’s always tough at the U.S. Open.”
With No. 6 James Blake losing to No. 10 Tommy Haas in five sets earlier Monday, Roddick is the only American man left – making this the first U.S. Open since 1998 without at least two in the quarterfinals.
Several hours before Federer took to the court in his all-black night ensemble, Roddick was leading 7-6 (6), 2-0 when his fourth-round opponent, No. 9 Tomas Berdych, stopped playing because he had trouble breathing.
So two of Roddick’s four foes have quit on him. And both of Roddick’s matches that were completed, against men ranked 475th and 68th, were over in three sets.
Now things get a lot more daunting.
“You feel the extra weight of most big matches. That’s just the way it is. But I’m excited. I expect a lot of myself,” Roddick said. “I don’t think anybody else really expects much from me.”
Certainly, no one expected all that much from Lopez, who went into Monday with an 0-4 mark against Federer and only one Grand Slam quarterfinal appearance on his resume.
Federer, meanwhile, not only has won 11 Grand Slam titles – he has reached a record 14 consecutive major semifinals and nine straight major finals. And that latter stat might have been nine straight major titles but for No. 2 Rafael Nadal, the left-hander from Spain who beat Federer in the past two French Open championship matches.
Doing a pretty fair impersonation of his better-known countryman, Lopez was spectacular at the start. He hit well-angled serves that caught Federer flat-footed and volleyed brilliantly, including one right to a corner to earn a quick break and a 3-1 lead. Lopez blew a set point by missing a backhand on a 25-stroke exchange, but then used a 118 mph service winner to take the opening set.
Lopez was right with Federer in the second set, too, getting to 4-all with another nice volley winner. But while serving in the 10th game, Lopez faltered ever so slightly, and when he dumped an over-the-shoulder volley try in the net, Federer broke to even things.
“He was playing fantastic for the first two sets,” Federer said. “I really had to struggle.”
And then Lopez won the first three points of the third set on Federer’s serve, setting up three break points. Lopez put a forehand in the net on the first. Federer delivered an ace on the second. Lopez hit a forehand that clipped the net and fell back on his side on the third.
And that was it: Federer then smacked an ace, followed by a forehand winner, and was off and running on that streak of service points, which ended in the match’s final game.
How good was Federer? He finished with all of 12 unforced errors in a 199-point match.
Like Lopez, Blake certainly had his chances against Haas.
Seven times, Blake was two points away from victory.
Three times, he was a single point away.
Blake failed to convert all three of those match points, then played about as poorly as he did all day in the final-set tiebreaker and lost to Haas 4-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-0, 7-6 (4).
“I was a little indecisive at the end there,” said Blake, who was 0-9 in five-setters until finally winning one in the second round last week. “Did come down to one or two points there. It’s frustrating I didn’t win them this time.”
The match ended oddly, with a raucous, pro-Blake crowd hushed during instant-replay challenges on each of the final two points. While waiting for the final replay – which showed that Haas’ 113 mph ace was, indeed, in – the players smiled sheepishly at each other and approached the net for a handshake they knew was coming.
“I’m not going to celebrate like crazy right in front of him,” Haas said.
In the quarterfinals, he will face No. 4 Nikolay Davydenko, who played in a match last month that’s currently the subject of a gambling probe and on Monday eliminated Lee Hyung-taik 6-1, 6-3, 6-4.
Worried they couldn’t expect much interest in the two low-wattage women’s quarterfinals coming Wednesday – 2004 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova against 18-year-old Agnes Szavay of Hungary, and No. 6 Anna Chakvetadze against No. 18 Shahar Peer – U.S. Open officials changed things up. With both players’ approval, they shifted the quarterfinal between six-time major champion Venus Williams and No. 3 Jelena Jankovic from Tuesday to Wednesday night.
The people who run the tournament also might not have been thrilled to lose Blake, who was born in Yonkers and is a fan favorite.
Blake’s quality dipped in the tiebreaker, though, which he began by flubbing a groundstroke. At 3-3 came the point of the match, a 15-stroke exchange in which Haas lofted two terrific lobs. On the first, Blake sprinted back to the baseline and hit an over-the-shoulder shot to extend the point. On the second, he had no chance.
“I just felt, like, ‘OK, let’s try it again,”‘ Haas said. “What a point! If I would have lost that point, the crowd would have gone absolutely ballistic.”
Instead, Blake then double-faulted to fall behind 5-3, and soon it was over. How distant his match points must have seemed then.
All of the American’s oh-so-close opportunities came when he led 5-4 in the fifth set with Haas serving. First came a 116 mph serve, drawing a weak return from Blake that the German turned into a forehand winner. Then a 117 mph service winner. Then a 119 mph service winner.
“I know one of us had to lose today,” Haas said. “I think we both can be very proud of what we’ve achieved.”
He, of course, was prouder. The U.S. Open is the only major that uses a fifth-set tiebreaker. Not surprisingly, Haas loves that.
“Every Grand Slam,” he said, “should have it.”