FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – In a match where timely shotmaking turned the tide time after time, Roger Federer fittingly rocked the court-side clock with one final authoritative ace to cap a 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 sweep of Robin Soderling and fly into the US Open final four for the seventh straight year. Continuing his quest to regain the US Open title he lost to Juan Martin del Potro last September, Federer will square off against Novak Djokovic in Saturday’s semifinals in their fourth consecutive Flushing Meadows clash.
It was a superlative serving performance from Federer, who ripped 18 aces and saved five of six break points in subduing Soderling. The fifth-seeded Swede had four break point chances at the outset of the match but could not convert and Federer picked up his serve considerably from that point forward.
“I think the serve was today the biggest key, because obviously he’s very famous for serving extremely accurate, extremely hard, over a long period of time,” Federer said. “That’s what makes him so hard to beat really. That wasn’t the case today. He struggled to get the pace, the accuracy going, until midway through the third set when I think he started to hit it a bit better. Then it was almost too late, really.”
The third-seeded Djokovic came to court with a dragon on his back, fire in his eyes and after an early mis-step found the swagger in his step in scorching a flat and floundering Gael Monfils, 7-6(2), 6-1, 6-2, to storm into the semifinals.
Hard court is Djokovic’s best surface. He can use his expansive reach to rip returns down the lines off both sides, he covers the court quickly and the speed of the Deco Turf adds some sting to his serve. Federer has won eight of his 12 meetings on hard court with Djokovic, but believes Djokovic is at his best on hard court.
“I think this kind of favors his play the most, kind of a faster hard court, because he can pick up some incredible balls, you know, half volley them, redirect them,” Federer said. “It helps maybe serve a bit more, and on the return he can, you know, zone in a bit, and all of a sudden he’s really tough to pass, you know, when he’s returning. That’s what makes him one of the best players in the game right now, and especially on this surface he’s obviously in the top 3 or 4. That’s why he’s been able to play consistent here at the Open. He’s obviously waiting for a breakthrough where he can win this title.”
Djokovic fell to Federer in the 2007 final and was victimized by Federer’s stupefying between-the-legs passing shot in last September’s semifinal. Djokovic said stylistically, the rivalry has not changed; he’s just hoping to reverse the result on Saturday.
“We do have more or less same game, you know. Just maybe experience wise in my case I feel better now,” Djokovic said. “Physically I feel better than I did last year. I feel stronger, faster on the court. The conditions are quite different, so let’s see, you know. Let’s see how this Saturday is gonna come out, you know, if we gonna have normal conditions or not.”
The second-seeded Swiss is 10-5 lifetime vs. Djokovic, including a 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 win in Toronto last month.
“Here we go again,” Federer said in anticipation of the latest installment of his rivalry with Djokovic. “He’s a great player. I got really lucky to get through there in Toronto and he’s obviously looking for the big break through here at the Open, so it’s gonna be a tough one.”
Though Federer has won nine of the 10 sets he’s played vs. Djokovic at the Open, the matches have typically been tightly-contested affairs, including the Swiss stylist’s 7-6(2), 7-6(4), 6-4 triumph in the 2007 final in which Federer fended off five set points in the first set and two set points in the second set, relying on his edge in experience, expertise in playing the the right shots on pivotal points, exceptional anticipation and a first serve that was sharpest in crucial stages to subdue the first Serbian man to contest major final.
Since his five-set win over Serbian Davis Cup teammate Viktor Troicki in the first round, the Djoker has won 12 consecutive sets and will enter the semifinals playing his best tennis of the tournament.
Opening the season by capturing his 16th career major championship in Melbourne in Australia, Federer suffered successive Grand Slam quarterfinal setbacks at Roland Garros and Wimbledon ending his reign in Paris and London and increasing speculation that Federer was more vulnerable in majors than ever.
On a drizzly day in June, Soderling reigned a series of resounding winners across the red clay in overwhelming Federer, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 in the French Open quarterfinals to snap the World No. 1’s record streak of 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals. It was Federer’s first loss before a Grand Slam semifinal in seven years, ending one of the most hallowed record streaks in tennis history.
Soderling could not reproduced that form tonight, in part because the wind wreaked havoc with his high ball toss and because he has little margin for error on his flat strokes.
“I didn’t put so many first serves in as I needed to because of the wind,” Soderling said. “It was tough for me. So I could have needed some more first serves. Maybe I would have played better then.”
The lanky Swede did not hit an ace until the third set. To his credit, Soderling did not give up the fight as Monfils did in today’s first quarterfinal against Djokovic. He began to center his shots more and when Federer missed the mark on an inside-out forehand, Soderling broke for 5-3 in the third set.
The two-time French Open finalist could not capitalize on the break, putting a forehand into net as Federer broke back for 4-5.
Down 15-30 Federer benefited from a Soderling error to draw even then lured the big man forward with a drop shot followed by a forehand volley that rattled Soderling’s Head racquet. For all his prodigious power from the backcourt, Soderling is almost clueless at times at net and he screamed in frustration at himself as Federer eventually worked out a hold for 5-all.
Summer started with a struggle for Federer, who followed his French Open demise with a Wimbledon quarterfinal loss to Tomas Berdych. But he’s crafted another late-summer resurgence in picking up his play after Labor Day and working toward a potential blockbuster final against World No. 1 Rafael Nadal.
“I think he’s playing great. Because he lost in the quarters of the French and in Wimbledon, some people think he’s more vulnerable than ever. But I think he’s actually playing really well,” Djokovic said of Federer. “He played great in Toronto and Cincinnati, and he’s just loves this surface. He loves this tournament. He has won so many times. Obviously he’s a favorite. But, you know, we played so many times, and mostly we played on this surface. It’s no secret in each other’s game. Just I will try to hold on, you know. He always tries to put pressure on his opponent. He’s very aggressive.”
Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.