Federer beats Djokovic at Open
September 7, 2008
NEW YORK ” Ominous clouds overhead, the sort of hard court that troubled him this season underfoot, Roger Federer sensed something Saturday he hadn’t in quite a while.
He was playing exactly like that guy named Roger Federer.
The Federer who has won 33 consecutive matches and four consecutive championships at the U.S. Open. The Federer closing in on his 13th Grand Slam title.
“One more match,” he said, “is all I need.”
Only after Federer finished restoring order to his world by dismissing Novak Djokovic 6-3, 5-7, 7-5, 6-2 did Tropical Storm Hanna carry chaos to Flushing Meadows, dumping enough rain to suspend the other men’s semifinal in progress and postpone the women’s final.
So Serena Williams will seek her third U.S. Open and ninth major title against first-time Grand Slam finalist Jelena Jankovic on Sunday night.
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The men’s final was delayed until Monday for the first time since 1987, giving Federer plenty of time to rest. He also was going to be able to do some scouting Sunday when his nemesis, new No. 1 Rafael Nadal, was to resume his semifinal against No. 6 Andy Murray. They stopped Saturday with Murray leading 6-2, 7-6 (5), 2-3.
The winner will face a Federer who looked confident and supremely competent against Djokovic in their rematch of the 2007 final.
“I had moments out there where I really felt, ‘This is how I normally play on hard court’ ” half-volleys, passing shots, good serving, putting the pressure on, playing with the wind, using it to my advantage,” said Federer, who produced 20 aces and only one double-fault.
“I definitely had moments during today where I thought, ‘This is how I would like to play every time.’ So it was a very nice feeling, actually, to get that feeling back.”
He dominated the opening set and the last 11/2 sets to reach his 13th final in the past 14 Grand Slam tournaments.
The one gap in that span was the Australian Open in January, when Djokovic upset Federer in the semifinals en route to his only major title. Perhaps that gave Federer extra motivation. This was hanging in the balance, too: Had Djokovic won Saturday and gone on to win the championship, he would have surpassed Federer in the rankings, dropping the longtime No. 1 all the way to No. 3.
“This was a big match. I knew it from when I saw the draw,” said Federer, who called his pursuit of Pete Sampras’ record of 14 career major championships “obviously still very much alive and everything is possible.”
Also in his sights: Federer can become the first man since Bill Tilden in the 1920s to win five consecutive U.S. tennis championships.
The fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium cheered for both the second-seeded Federer of Switzerland, and the third-seeded Djokovic of Serbia, but the reigning champion got more backing.
“I feel a little bit New Yorker right now,” Federer said. “I definitely appreciate the efforts from the fans, supporting me and pushing me forward.”
Maybe they remembered what happened Thursday on the same court. After beating Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals, Djokovic drew merciless boos by lashing out at the American, taking him to task for making light of the Serb’s series of medical issues earlier in the week.
“It’s been a very exhausting tournament, mentally and physically, for me,” Djokovic said Saturday, declining to discuss the Roddick matter.
Or maybe the fans simply figured Federer needed an extra push during what, by his so-special standards, has been a sub-par season.
He has 12 losses, more than in any entire year from 2004-07.
He has two titles, his lowest total entering a U.S. Open since 2002. Neither came on the surface used at Flushing Meadows, and Federer said: “I have been struggling on hard court, you know. I have no problems admitting that.”
Federer, though, never doubted he could summon his skills.
Nor did Djokovic.
“Roger is still there, you know. And even though people are talking about him not playing so well this year, he’s still very consistent,” Djokovic said. “That’s his strength, you know. Whenever he needs to play well, he plays his best.”
Sure did that Saturday.
It was as though Federer knew that those gray clouds could stop things at any moment and he wanted to get as far ahead as fast as possible. As he and Djokovic played on, tournament officials concerned about the impending rain shifted Nadal-Murray to Louis Armstrong Stadium instead of having it follow the first semifinal on Ashe.
When that shift was announced, thousands of fans booed, then ran from one court to the other. They likely would be thrilled to hear the U.S. Tennis Association is revisiting the idea of spending $100 million to put a retractable roof over the main court.
Murray compiled a 44-19 edge in winners against Nadal, and it came as no surprise that the Scotsman seemed reluctant to leave when rain came. Nadal-Murray started about 11/2 hours after the other semifinal began and was to resume about 26 hours after Federer-Djokovic concluded.
“I play wherever they schedule to play. … The decision to change courts is understandable,” Nadal said. “No complaints whatsoever.”
Windy as it was while he played, Federer smacked a 130 mph serve to set up a forehand winner and end the first set against a Djokovic whose demeanor and strokes were duller than usual.
The real Djokovic showed up in the second set, striking shots more crisply, pressuring Federer more consistently. When Federer served while trailing 6-5, Djokovic earned three set points. The first two were erased, reminiscent of last year’s final, when Djokovic wasted seven set points.
But Djokovic is no longer as inexperienced, nor Federer, seemingly, as invincible. This time, Djokovic returned a 121 mph serve and watched Federer rush an easy forehand on the third set point.
Looking rattled as fans harassed him while he served, Djokovic put a forehand into the net, setting up break point at 5-5 in the third set. When Djokovic missed a volley, Federer had the break, a 6-5 lead ” and a rousing chorus from the stands.
That roar grew louder a game later, when Djokovic hit a smash that would have ended the point against nearly anyone. Near a wall, Federer stretched and jumped and carved a winner that stunned Djokovic. Federer raised a fist imperiously, and five points later he danced in delight, the fourth set and momentum his.
By now, Djokovic was gasping for air between points, and when he sent a volley wide at the end of a 19-stroke point, Federer broke to a 5-2 lead in the fourth.
Moments later, the match was over, and Federer pumped both fists and bellowed.
He was back in the U.S. Open final. He was back, period.
Federer was asked whom he’d rather face next. Nadal routed him in the French Open final, edged him in the Wimbledon final and supplanted him atop the rankings last month.
“Who do I prefer?” Federer said, then smiled, knowing the words he was about to say would draw loud approval from the crowd. “I prefer the trophy. That’s what I prefer.”