Federer is Proving He’s Still the Best

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Fernando Verdasco is no slouch. He is ranked no. 25 at the Open. That is the good news. The bad news is that he had to play a very hot Roger Federer today.

Game over quickly.

Federer won 6-3,6-4,6-4.

And the match had am amazing statistic. Federer was 26 of 27 in net points won. And it could have been worse if he had come in more. It was a bit too windy for that.

In the post-match press conference he seemed stunned by the stat.

He also would not admit that playing doubles in the Olympics helped his net play.

This came a day after his double partner, Stan Wawrinka said that Federer would be the best doubles player in the world if he played more doubles.

No one is better than Federer, but when in an age that he is trying to close out points earlier, some more serve and volley in his game would help appreciably.

There is no doubt that coach Paul Annacone is trying to incorporate that aspect more into his game.

Federer was effective coming in against Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final. Admittedly, the rough was closed and it was easier to do.

If Federer incorporated some more doubles into his regimen at places like Miami, Montreal and Cincinnati he could even be more effective when he plays the likes of Nadal and Djokovic.

And he could also preserve some wear and tear on his 31 year old body.

ATP Top 20 Rankings

1 Rafael Nadal (Spa) 11225.00pts

2 Novak Djokovic (Ser) 7145.00

3 Roger Federer (Swi) 6735.00

4 Andy Murray (Gbr) 5035.00

5 Robin Soderling (Swe) 4910.00

6 Nikolay Davydenko (Rus) 4150.00

7 Tomas Berdych (Cze) 3780.00

8 Fernando Verdasco (Spa) 3330.00

9 Mikhail Youzhny (Rus) 3295.00

10 David Ferrer (Spa) 3200.00

11 Andy Roddick (USA) 3180.00

12 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (Fra) 2905.00

13 Jurgen Melzer (Aut) 2605.00

14 Marin Cilic (Cro) 2540.00

15 Gael Monfils (Fra) 2250.00

16 Nicolas Almagro (Spa) 2150.00

17 Ivan Ljubicic (Cro) 2120.00

18 Marcos Baghdatis (Cyp) 2030.00

19 Mardy Fish (USA) 1931.00

20 Stanislas Wawrinka (Swi) 1860.00

Raging Rafa Determined To Get The Career Slam

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Just look in Rafael Nadal’s eyes and you see determination. The top seeded player on the men’s side knows this is his time and the career Grand Slam is there for the taking.

Maybe that’s why the 24 year-old was so serious this year when by taking Barcelona off and concentrating on winning the all elusive US Open title.

“I didn’t change a lot in my schedule,” said Nadal as he reached the Semifinals for the third year in a row by dispelling countryman Fernando Verdasco in straight sets 7-5 6-3 6-4. “My schedule just changed so I don’t play in Barcelona. So I am fresher because I know how important is the US Open and I’m fresher I think because I had to stop three weeks during the summer without tennis because I had to do a treatment on my knees.”

Whatever it is New York is seeing a determined player out there, who is trying to break the barrier and become a one of the few with four majors under his belt.

And so far, so good, but of course, Nadal has the hardest hill to climb with hard conditions on the court and of course the 400 lb gorilla in the room named Roger Federer.

Now, the wind is something every player had to endure and Nadal has come up aces in that area. He said it was difficult to play tennis tonight and even lost his serve during the third, but that didn’t stop a straight set win.

No it’s the matchup with Federer everyone wants to see, even Verdasco, who thinks the title will go back to Switzerland rather than joining the World Cup in his homeland.

“I think if I need to bet here, I will bet for Roger,” Verdasco thought. “I think that he won five times here and he likes these conditions.”

It’s true Federer has been playing as well as Nadal in this tournament. In fact, everyone – and especially CBS – is looking forward to a Federer-Nadal final, something that has happened in the other three Grand Slams, but never in Flushing Meadows.

Yet looking too far ahead is hard for the Spaniard, and for now, he thinks his longtime rival has the edge.

“Well, for sure Roger is the favorite of the tournament, especially because he won five times ‑‑ five times?” he said.  “And six finals in a row.  No one doubt on that.

“And I am in semifinals, so I don’t think about the final.  Everybody free to think, and what Fernando says is completely fair.  I hope keep playing well and have my chance in that match in semifinal.”

Nadal has a date on Saturday with 12th seeded Mikhail Youzhny, whom Nadal has a nice 7-4 record against the Russian, but  took his most recent loss back in 2008 in India.

So sure, the Spaniard has a right to smile these days, after two straight years in the Semifinals, Nadal is looking to take the next step. Back in 2008 he said he didn’t have the energy after playing so much that summer and lost to Andy Roddick and last year he ran into a steamroller Juan Martin Del Potro.

Now things have changed.

“This year,” he said.  “I think ‑‑ I know how important is the US Open for me right now, and I know I have to arrive to this tournament fresh if I want to have any chance to have a very good result.

“That’s what I tried.  I think I did.  I am at the right round without problems, so that’s very positive?  Right now remains the most difficult thing.”

And yes, you can see it in his eyes.

Youzhny Moves To Semis After Five Set Classic

The American flag flapped frantically behind a biting wind at the top of Arthur Ashe Stadium while Mikhail Youzhny and Stanislas Wawrinka fought furiously on the court below.

On a day when a wickedly wild wind swirling at high speed made tennis balls bounce as bizarrely around the court as ping pong balls careening crazily inside the glass of lottery hopper, Youzhny effectively exploited the elements and mastered massive fifth-set pressure to advance to his second US Open semifinal with a hard-fought 3-6, 7-6(7), 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 triumph over Wawrinka that spanned exactly four hours.

“It was so close,” Youzhny said. “Right now I’m happy because I just finished the match and I win this match. So (it is a) good result, but already you are in semifinal and you still play.  Of course you want more. Anyway, I don’t think now is good result, so I want more.”

The 12th-seeded Russian will face either World No. 1 Rafael Nadal or eighth-seeded Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in Saturday’s semifinal. The winner of that match will face five-time US Open champion Roger Federer or third-seeded Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s final.

“He’s No. 1; he won two Grand Slams; he play really, really well; it will be very tough for me,” Youzhny said of Nadal , adding “Of course it’s better to play (Nadal) here (than) on clay.”

New York City has often brought the best out in Youzhny.

Four years ago, Youzhny reached the Flushing Meadows final four, falling to Andy Roddick, 7-6(5), 0-6, 6-7(3), 3-6..

“It was also close, tough match.  I won first set; I easily lost second.  It was tiebreak in third set.  Nobody know what happens if I won this tiebreak,” Youzhny said. “But, you know, it was four years ago.  Now I think it’s another time, and I’m like another player.  I cannot say I am better player now, but it’s another time and other opponent, so everything can happen.”

While the 28-year-old Russian could face an immense challenge against either Nadal or Verdasco, Youzhny is the only man left in the draw who has a win over Nadal at the US Open.

He beat Nadal in four sets in the 2006 US Open quarterfinal. Though Nadal has won seven of 11 meetings with Youzhny, the Russian with the brilliant one-handed backhand has a 4-3 record vs. Nadal on hard courts.

The victory vaults Youzhny back into the world’s top 10 for the first time since February of 2008 when he reached a career-high rank of No. 8.

Playing determined defense in the opening game of the fifth set, Youzhny centered the ball in a long backhand-to-backhand exchange. Finally, Wawrinka made a move to net, Youzhny bending his legs to get low lasered a backhand blast crosscourt to pass the Swiss and break for a 1-0 fifth-set lead. Youzhny worked his way through a deuce game to consolidate for 2-0.

Youzhny fought off a break point in the fourth game when Wawrinka steered a forehand pass up the line wide. But on the second break point, Wawrinka lured Youzhny forward and the Russian lifted a backhand approach beyond the baseline as a fired-up Wawrinka broke back for 2-2.

It proved to be a short-lived as Wawrinka set a backhand wide and Youzhny broke back for 3-2. Working his way out of a 30-all game, Youzhny held for 4-2.

Seeing the match slip away a frustrated Wawrinka smashed his racquet to the court after burying a backhand into the net as Youzhny held at love for 5-3.

A weary Wawrinka was playing with protective adhesive taping on both quads and took an injury time-out to get re-taped midway through the fourth set. Walking slowly behind the baseline between points, Wawrinka looked lethargic as if worn down by the draining duel he had with Sam Querrey in the fourth round. Wawrinka emerged with a 7-6(9), 6-7(5), 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 win in that match and it took a toll today.

“I think I gave everything today and I try for sure,” Wawrinka said. “I made some big mistake, but after four hours, you’re really tired. I was tired. So it’s not always easy to think and to play the right drop shots or to play the good point and not to break the racquet.”

Youzhny gained the early break and made it stand up as Wawrinka tried to shorten up the points. After Youzhny blocked a backhand volley winner into the open court  to hold for 5-2, Wawrinka left the court, returned minutes later and relied on some strong serving to hold for 3-5.

Wawrinka pulled a new Head racquet out of his bag, but lost his grip in the ninth game. After slicing a backhand into the net, the Swiss wound up and slammed the racquet to the court. Two points later, Youzhny served out the fourth set to level the match.

Wawrinka burst out to a fast start in the third set, breaking in the second game and holding for a 3-0 lead. Sprinting with his back to the net, Youzhny hit a between the legs shot that seemed to surprise Wawrinka who pushed an easy forehand volley wide as Youzhny got on the board at 1-3.

Maintaining his break lead throughout the set, Wawrinka, who bungled several volleys, was stuck at net. Youzhny had a clean look at a pass, but opted to lob and the wind tossed the backhand lob long giving Wawrinka  second set point. Rearing back, the Swiss slammed a 135 mph ace to take a two set to one lead two hours, 28 minutes into the match.

Serving at 5-6 in the second set, Wawrinka was at 30-all when a Youzhny drive was called deep. He challenged and replay showed the ball clipped the back of the line. It ws an unfortunate call for the Russian as Youzhny had the offensive at that point in the rally. He buried a backhand into net and two points later Wawrinka held to force the tie breaker.

Wawrinka withstood two set points and on Youzhny’s third set point he sliced a backhand that flirted with the top of the tape before settling on his side of the net.

Shrugging that near-miss off, Youzhny curled a crosscourt running forehand pass that eluded Wawrinka’s outstretched racquet for a fourth set point.

That shot prompted Youzhny’s typically non-expressive coach, Boris Sobkin, who can be as stoic as Stonehenge, to leap out of his seat and pump his fist toward Youzhny. Empowered by that shot, Youzhny cornered Wawrinka on the backhand side and beat him with an inside-out forehand winner, leaping in the air in celebration after seizing the one hour, 10-minute second set.

Wawrinka sprinted out to a fast start in the third set, breaking in the second game and holding for a 3-0 lead. Sprinting with his back to the net, Youzhny hit a between the legs shot that seemed to surprised Wawrinka who pushed an easy forehand volley wide as Youzhny got on the board at 1-3.

Richard Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Nadal KOs F-Lo In Three

Rafael Nadal has changed his grip and asserted a strong hold on this US Open field. Continuing to wreak devastation on the men’s draw, Nadal flogged Feliciano Lopez, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, to storm into his third consecutive US Open quarterfinal. The top seed has not surrendered serve or dropped a set and played with the ferocity of a man who may well run the table in New York, complete the career Grand Slam and become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open championships simultaneously.

Gone are the questions about Nadal’s two-handed backhand, which betrayed him in Cincinnati. Gone are the questions about his ability to tame the fast Flushing Meadows hard courts given the fact he has not won a hard-court title since the 2009 Indian Wells and gone is the uncertainty over Nadal’s readiness to reach his first US Open final.

Perhaps the only person in Arthur Ashe Stadium who wasn’t thoroughly impressed with Nadal’s performance tonight was the top-seeded Spaniard himself.

Always the perfectionist, Nadal says he’s playing well, but can get better.

“No, I think I am playing well, but I (am) not playing yet at my highest level,” Nadal told Tennis Now in his 1:30 a.m. press conference. “But I am playing well. To be in the quarterfinals of the quarterfinals of the US Open without losing a set and without losing serve, two things must work really well: the concentration and the serve. Without those two things, you gonna lose for sure serves, no?”

Nadal will take on former Davis Cup teammate Fernando Verdasco in the first all-Spanish US Open quarterfinal in Open Era history.

The eighth-seeded Verdasco fought back from a two-set deficit and a 1-4 hole in the fifth-set tiebreaker, winning six straight points to score a stirring victory over David Ferrer.

Running down a Ferrer shot well behind the baseline, Verdasco stumbled slightly, regained his balance then sprinted forward to lift a lunging forehand pass up the line  — an exceptional exclamation point to punctuate a 5-7, 6-7(8), 6-3, 6-3, 7-6(4) victory that vaulted Verdasco into the US Open quarterfinals for the second straight year.

“After I lost the first two sets, of course, it’s tough,” Verdasco said. “You just need to win all the other sets. I came back till the fifth set and of course even that I was 4-1 down in the tie break, I was not going to say ‘Okay, that’s it. I was going to try my best until the end. I was, of course, with 4-1 down in the tie break  much more chances to lose than to win, but I just kept fighting and trying.”

When Verdasco saw Ferrer near net, he anticipated the volley, streaked forward on a diagonal line and was near the doubles alley when he caught up to the ball. Reaching the ball was a feat in itself, it’s what Verdasco did with it that will make this shot one for the highlight reel.

Seeing a sliver of space up the line, he squeezed his stretch forehand down the line, watched the ball land and then fell flat on his back, staring straight up into the white lights as the crowd exploded in support.

“(It) is tough to explain. You are with your sixth sense in the ball knowing how important that is just trying to run, fight,” Verdasco said. “When I did the backhand along the line passing shot, I was like even surprised that he took the volley. Of course my reaction was just keeping the point and start running forward…So I start running I just saw the space. When you see there is a little bit of space, you just try to put the ball in. It was like unbelievable.”

Will Verdasco, who is winless in 10 career meetings with Nadal, have any legs left for the quarterfinal?

“I hope that this is gonna give me big confidence, this match,” Verdasco said. “And I also hope to be 100 percent physically after a tough match like today to play against one player like Nadal that you need to be like 100 percent to try to face him, to try to beat him. I will just try to do all the things right and good as best as possible. Everybody knows that he’s No. 1 in the world; he’s a great plaeyr. My record is not too good against him. But I will keep trying and keep fighting to make the first time here.”

Richard Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Verdasco Wins An Epic Battle Over Ferrer

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Fernando Verdasco spent this New York night engaged in an epic tennis tug-of-war with compatriot David Ferrer with neither man giving an inch over five sets and four hours, 23 minutes of scintillating shotmaking that seemed to cover every available inch of court. Grinding his teeth, screaming at himself at times and hurling his body all over the court in pursuit of every ball, a combative Verdasco competed with all the tenacity of a man fighting his way out of a rugby scrum in roaring back from a two-set deficit and a 1-4 chasm in the fifth-set tie breaker.

When Verdasaco’s match point moment came, he seized it with the most electrifying effort of the match.

Running down a Ferrero shot well behind the baseline, Verdasco stumbled slightly, regained his balance then sprinted forward to lift a lunging forehand pass up the line  — an exceptional exclamation point to punctuate a 5-7, 6-7(8), 6-3, 6-3, 7-6(4) victory that vaulted Verdasco into the US Open quarterfinals for the second straight year.

“After I lost the first two sets, of course, it’s tough,” Verdasco said. “You just need to win all the other sets. I came back till the fifth set and of course even that I was 4-1 down in the tie break, I was not going to say ‘Okay, that’s it. I was going to try my best until the end. I was, of course, with 4-1 down in teh tie break  much more chances to lose than to win, but I just kept fighting and trying.”

When Verdasco saw Ferrer near net, he anticipated the volley, streaked forward on a diagonal line and was near the doubles alley when he caught up to the ball. Reaching the ball was a feat in itself, it’s what Verdasco did with it that will make this shot one for the highlight reel.

Seeing a sliver of space up the line, he squeezed his stretch forehand down the line, watched the ball land and then fell flat on his back, staring straight up into the white lights as the crowd exploded in support.

“(It) is tough to explain. You are with your sixth sense in the ball knowing how important that is just trying to run, fight,” Verdasco said. “When I did the backhand along the line passing shot, I was like even surprised that he took the volley. Of course my reaction was just keeping the point and start running forward…So I start running I just saw the space. When you see there is a little bit of space, you just try to put the ball in. It was like unbelievable.”

The eighth-seeded Spaniard will face World No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the first all-Spanish US Open quarterfinal in Open Era history. Nadal crushed a crackling forhand winner to conclude an impressive 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory over 23rd-seeded Spaniard Feliciano Lopez.

Will Verdasco, who is winless in 10 career meetings with Nadal, have any legs left for the quarterfinal?

“I hope that this is gonna give me big confidence, this match,” Verdasco said. “And I also hope to be 100 percent physically after a tough match like today to play against one player like Nadal that you need to be like 100 percent to try to face him, to try to beat him. I will just try to do all the things right and good as best as possible. Everybody knows that he’s No. 1 in the world; he’s a great plaeyr. My record is not too good against him. But I will keep trying and keep fighting to make the first time here.”

It was a crushing loss for Ferrer, who had not dropped a set in his three tournament wins.

The 10th-seeded Ferrer was three points from victory at 4-1 in the tie breaker, but could not seal the deal.  Verdasco cracked a crosscourt backhand winner then took advantage of three Ferrer errors to earn match point.

Speaking in a clear, quiet voice with a half-full bottle of Evian at his finger tips, Ferrer was left ruing the match that slipped through his fingers.

“Verdasco played really well,” Ferrer said. “But from 4-1 up, I play so bad, so bad. I have a chance in the third set and he played really good. I fight a lot, as hard as I could. It was difficult one.”

It was such a ferociously fought match, Verdasco actually apologized to Ferrer in the locker room after the match.

“He told me ‘Well done.’ ” Verdasco said. “I told him, like ‘I’m really sorry.’ Then I told him like you know that we need to keep fighting to be both in the Masters Cup. We have a great relationship. Of course when you lose a match like this today for him, if I lost this match for sure I (would be) so upset and pissed in the locker room. But at the end we are good friends and I want (for) him the best.”

They brought out the best in each other tonight.

Richard Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Spain Takes The Lead In US Open

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Rafael Nadal was an avid soccer player growing up in Mallorca and traveled to South Africa to watch Spain win its World Cup earlier this summer. But these days the top-seeded Spaniard just can’t quite kick a hard habit. Winning is addictive and Nadal is hopelessly hooked in leading a Spanish Imposition at the US Open.

The top quarter of the US Open draw is saturated in Spanish colors, ensuring at least one Spanish semifinalist.

Nadal sent new father Gilles Simon headed for the next plane to Paris to meet his newborn baby in pounding out a 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 victory to storm into a US Open fourth round showdown against sometime Davis Cup teammate Feliciano Lopez.

Spanish men set a Grand Slam Open Era record with nine players reaching the third round.

Fernando Verdasco and Lopez partnered to send Spain to the 2008 Davis Cup championship and the lefthanders flicked their respective wrists in scripting Spain’s stamp on this US Open. Verdasco diffused David Nalbandian, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 on the Grandstand court and Lopez followed on the same stage, holding a 6-3, 4-0 lead when Sergiy Stakhovsky retired from their match.

Verdasco will face David Ferrer, a 7-6(2), 6-2, 6-2 winner over Daniel Gimeno-Traver, for a place in the quarterfinals. Verdasco has won six of 10 meetings with Ferrer with nine of those encounters coming on clay. Ferrer won their only hard-court meeting six years ago in Chennai. Playing for a trip to his second straight US Open quarterfinal, Verdasco takes on a capable opponent in the 10th-seeded Ferrer, who knocked Nadal out of the Open in the 2007 round of 16.

“It’s always nice to see all the Spanish winning and being in the last rounds, no?” Verdasco said  “So if you need to lose, it’s better to lose against a Spanish player, then at least one guy is gonna be there one round more, no? I’m happy.  I hope to play good also the next round, keep doing my work and my job as better as possible.  Trying to play the best to be in the quarterfinals like last year.”

Twenty years ago, the Spanish Armada sailed primarily on the red clay seas, but Spanish men have conquered all surfaces now.

“It’s kind of surprising to have so many players in the fourth round,” said Lopez after snapping Stakhovsky’s seven match winning streak. “What can I say about Spanish tennis? It’s always there. And since 15-20 years ago we are winning almost everything, no? Before we were the best on clay. Now we win on grass, on everywhere no? So it’s gonna be one time that his is gonna be over and the people will have to accept.”

Continuing his quest to complete the career Grand Slam, Nadal produced another impressive serving performance in winning 39 of 43 points played on his first serve (91 percent), smacking a 135 mph serve and erasing the only break point he faced.

Nadal has not dropped a set or surrendered serve in three tournament victories and will be primed and pumped to avenge his Queen’s Club loss to Lopez when they square off on Tuesday.

The Spanish players dine together, practice together and hold court in the same corner of the locker room and will share the court again as Verdasco plays David Ferrer with the winner meeting the Nadal-Lopez winner in the quarterfinals.

“We practice more with the Spanish players because they are friends and it’s easier for us to get in touch with them and to call them for practice or whatever because we are almost together every day and we go for dinner,” Lopez said.

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Davydenko Dumped by Gasquet

Sixth-seeded Nikolay Davydenko became the highest-seeded man to fall from the US Open field in suffering a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 second-round setback to Richard Gasquet on the Grandstand court. The two-time US Open semifinalist had a visceral response to his loss —  Davydenko is prepared to get trashed.

Actually, the 29-year-old Russian is ready to toss his racquets in the trash. Davydenko, who endorses Dunlop and wears Dunlop apparel has been playing with his old, unmarked Prince frame, but vowed to throw those in the garbage and actually begin playing with Dunlop in his next tournament.

“I talked to my brother and I will change all my racquets,” Davydenko said after the match. “I will completely change to Dunlop and throw all of my (old) racquets in the garbage.”

While the frames will take the fall for the lose, Davydenko, who missed 11 weeks after breaking his left wrist in Indian Wells and has won back-to-back matches just once since launching his comeback in June in Halle, concedes his issues may be more mental than physical or technical.

“I don’t know if it’s a wrist problem or a head problem,” Davydenko said, stretching his legs out before him and staring down at his shoelaces for a moment. “After my injury, I play everything bad. I change from 18-string Prince to play 16-string during hard courts to try to get more control and top spin, but I have no confidence, no baseline game.”

In addition to an equipment change, he’s contemplating a head change.

“Maybe I need to go somewhere to change my brain,” Davydenko deadpanned.

It was the first meeting between the pair in five years and while Davydenko hugs the baseline, takes the ball earlier and theoretically should be able to take the first strike in rallies it was Gasquet who took control in the baseline rallies in registering his second top 10 win of the season and first since he claimed his sixth career title beating Fernando Verdasco in Nice.

The 38th-ranked Frenchman has top 10 talent, who reached the US Open round of 16 in both 2005 and 2006, will play either No. 26 seed Thomaz Bellucci or big-serving Kevin Anderson for a place in the fourth round.

Asked to assess Gasquet’s level of play, Davydenko sounded stumped.

“It’s tough  for me to say because I cannot return first serve. He was just pushing me back in the middle with high balls and I was destroying myself.”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

A Lighter Fish Swims At The Open

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Going into this year’s open, Mardy Fish was having a very impressing year. A finals loss in Cincinnati to Roger Federer is nothing to sneeze at, so much so that many a prognosticator was picking Fish to be America’s best chance to win the Men’s Singles.

But of course, they have to play the matches and Fish survived a first round scare to Czech Jan Hajek in five sets, 6-0 3-6 4-6 6-0 6-1.

“I won”, Fish laughed when asked at what happened today. “No, these guys are good, man.  You know, I started out great.  I made one unforced error in the first set, entire first set.  Played a bad game early in the second and he held, served well, held throughout there.  4‑All in the third set he hit four winners, broke me there, and played a long game the next game and he held.

“Next thing you know, you’re down two sets to one thinking, you know, maybe you’re going home.  That’s not where I want to be right now, so I was lucky to turn it around and play a little more aggressive.  I was playing a little too defensive.  You know, lucky enough to turn it around.”

It’s funny because Fish has been a journeyman for most of his career but at age 28, he seems to have put it all together by watching his diet, while going into a fitness regimen.

“I feel like a completely different person, playing like a completely different player, and able to do things that I’ve never been able to do before,” Fish said.  “Hopefully it’s a career thing.”

And he is seeing the results, because in Cincinnati he beat Gilles Simon, Fernando Verdasco, Richard Gasquet, Andy Murray, and Andy Roddick, which is no small task to say the least.

“I feel so much different, as well,” he said.  “You know, I can look at pictures, and some pictures I might look okay and some, you know, not.

“Even from 2009 Wimbledon, I mean, you know, it’s almost embarrassing to think about as a professional athlete or a professional tennis player.  I mean, we have to be in such good shape.  It’s pretty crazy how I kind of got away with it ‑ for a little while, at least.”

All of this showed today as Fish was on the ropes to Hajek, but with temperatures in the mid-90s, the Czech wilted, while Fish enjoyed the heat, like…well a fish enjoys water.

“Yes, it’s hot,” he thought. “This is probably the hottest it’s gonna be here.  But, I mean, from what we went through this summer, what John and I went through this summer in Atlanta, I mean, it’s just not even ‑‑ I can’t tell you.  It’s not even close.  It’s not even ‑‑ I mean, it’s 50 degrees less, I’m telling you, and no humidity, so it just feels nice. It just feels kind of hot.”

And even with the heat, Fish endured. And many a champion has a five set scare in the first round or two. Today, Fish survived the test and the heat.

Federer Hangs Tough Over Soderling

For two sets, it wasn’t a contest. Roger Federer was making quick work of Robin Soderling, looking like a lock for a grand slam record 22nd straight semifinal.

Perhaps it came too easy because his U.S. Open quarterfinal match against the No.12 seeded Soderling completely changed, suddenly becoming a whole lot more interesting with the underdog trying to pull off the impossible. Comeback from two sets behind against Federer at a slam, who brought a perfect 147-0 record under such circumstances.

Despite a valiant effort from a player he beat in Paris to complete the career grand slam and eliminated in a close three sets on his way to winning a record 15th major at Wimbledon, the five-time reigning Open champ earned No.22- hanging tough for a four set win over Soderling, 6-0, 6-3, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (6) before a pumped up Ashe Stadium in Flushing.

“It was so close towards the end. It’s a great relief to come through, because Robin started playing better and better as the match went on,” a relieved Federer told ESPN’s Darren Cahill after escaping. “I knew he’d be tough, but the beginning was way too easy. He found his way into the match.”

Somehow after looking completely out of it, Soderling had fought back even earning set point to level the match. But the determined champion found his way out of trouble, winning the final three points to setup a semi rematch from last year versus a familiar foe Novak Djokovic, who got out of trouble earlier in the day prevailing in four sets over Fernando Verdasco.

“Yeah, I mean, look, we’ll see how it goes against Djokovic, I guess,” Federer said while discussing the style differences between his next opponent and Soderling. “It was good that I had maybe a bit of a test, but it’s not something I’m really looking for. The hoped I could close him out in three. I should have.”

“In the end, I’m lucky to be through in four.”

Following Caroline Wozniacki ending Melanie Oudin’s run, Federer was all business against what he termed a ‘dangerous opponent‘ in a press conference yesterday. In the opening pair of sets, that wasn’t the case with the Swiss world No.1 coming out of the gate so sharp that he even bageled Soderling.

Things didn’t get much better for the 25 year-old French Open runner-up as he couldn’t find an answer for Federer’s bread and butter forehand which produced plenty of a match best 64 winners. If only it were that simple. There’s also his movement which during sets one and two made it seem like he was out for a walk in the park.

Remarkably, Soderling was making better than 70 percent first serves but still found himself in a huge hole with an opportunistic Federer breaking him four times. He took full advantage of a weak second serve, taking firm control to jump out to a commanding two set lead.

Could anything stop him?

“For sure, I feel like I have a chance every time I play against him, even though it’s pretty small,” Soderling said after falling to 0-12 career versus Federer. “He always plays well, it feels like.”

The first game of the third set looked like it would be a similar script with Federer winning the first three points on Soderling’s serve but instead of going away, the Swede hung tough saving every single one with large serves and even bigger hitting which helped turn the match.

“You see how quickly tennis can change around if you don’t take those. I think he did well to hang in there, because it wasn’t easy after what he had to go through in the first two sets,” Federer duly noted.

“So I have to give him a lot of credit for hanging there and playing so well in the end.”

Suddenly, the switch went on. New York fans started to see why the gifted player is having a breakout year on the cusp of the top 10. Playing the same style that dethroned Rafael Nadal in Roland Garros, Soderling traded shot for shot with the game’s best making for much more compelling action. He even started getting the better of the rallies unleashing a lethal forehand which scored a good chunk of his 36 winners.

When he wasn’t hitting a flat out winner, it was mostly due to the speed of his world class opponent who did plenty of scrambling to stay in points, even having to fight off break chances to keep the third set on serve.

As the set wore on, a determined Soderling kept holding as if to say,’I’m not going away,’ gaining plenty of support from a boisterous New York crowd that wanted more tennis. If the ladies’ quarter disappointed with Oudin running out of steam against a focused Wozniacki who made her first slam semifinal, they sure got their money’s worth.

Fittingly, the well played set needed a tiebreak. At that point, ESPN commentator Patrick McEnroe wondered if Soderling’s serve would suddenly go off. Early on, he looked prophetic with the Swede committing a couple of bad miscues to fall behind 0-4 making it feel over. But to his credit, he never quit stealing the next point on Federer’s serve to get a mini-break back.

Amazingly, against one of the best tiebreaker players ever, Soderling got back even at five apiece thanks to some enormous shots including a wicked forehand up the line. After a big serve, he had set point. However, Federer saved it in remarkable fashion playing great defense before running down a drop volley to come up with a slice forehand pass yelling, “Come on.

Soderling didn’t let it slip taking the next point before forcing a long Federer miss to claim the set, giving cheering fans another set.

“It’s tough to play worse than I did in the first two sets. It could only get better,” Soderling pointed out. “I think I was putting a lot of pressure on him from the start of the third set.”

The fourth set would be even better. With Federer serving first, he figured to have an edge because he could then put all the pressure on Soderling, who had to know one slip up and the comeback bid would be all for naught.

After digging out of a Love-30 game early to hold, the Swiss Maestro turned up the heat, ratcheting up his serve increasing the ace count. He took a page from the 50 he needed to edge Andy Roddick at Wimbledon. In the set, whenever he needed one, he got it cracking at least eight of 28 to keep holding.

“For me, it’s very tough to read his serve, and I was very impressed about the way he served during the circumstances,” praised Soderling. “It was very, very windy.”

For his part, Soderling remained undeterred doing his best to emulate Federer. In one game late in the chess match, he served three consecutive aces going as big as possible even catching the edge out wide to win a challenge.

When he didn’t hit them, he was outslugging Federer with tremendous power from both sides of the racket striking lines. For as hopeless as it looked early with the first two sets taking less than an hour, suddenly Soderling was in the zone giving the crowd plenty of hope for a fifth set. At one point, a fan screamed:

Come on Robin. We want a fifth set.

He sure tried. As each guy stepped up and held, there was no doubt where the fourth was headed. And a Soderling service winner gave them another breaker.

Unlike the first one, neither player budged. Though Soderling got a couple of great looks at Federer second serves. But his go for broke return forehands sailed just wide. Had one connected, who knows? They might still be playing.

When Soderling kept his cool for 6-5, it was suddenly set point with a chance to actually send it the distance. Over an hour before, who ever would’ve believed it? Unfortunately, a more desperate Federer wasn’t so willing saving it with a big serve and then getting a little help from Soderling, who misfired a backhand when he had it lined up.

Just like that, it was match point. With the crowd hoping for more tennis, it was Soderling who finally gave in missing a forehand wide to which an excited Federer pumped his fist and let out a scream of relief.

He had avoided the upset. It sure got dicey. But when push came to shove, the great champion again showed why he is moving a step closer to matching Bill Tilden’s once thought unbreakable Open record of six straight titles back in the 1920’s.

Federer already owns one ridiculous record making 22 straight semi appearances at the slams.

“Not what I aimed for, that’s for sure,” the clever champ responded. “Probably one of the greatest records for me, personally, in my career. Glad it keeps going.”

They don’t call him the King of Queens for nothing.