US Open 2015: Federer keeps cool, calm & collected to seal QF spot
17-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer books his place in US Open quarter-finals with victory over John Isner
It was a night at Flushing when the ‘firsts’ were popping up across the Meadows like mushrooms.
With his victory over No3 seed Andy Murray, it marked the first time No15 seed Kevin Anderson had beaten a top-10 player at a Major, and the first time he had reached a Grand Slam quarter-final after seven fourth-round appearances.
It was the first time Murray had failed to reach the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam in 19 straight Major appearances, and that via the longest match thus far at this year’s tournament, all four and a quarter hours of it.
Johanna Konta may have lost in her first night match on Arthur Ashe to Petra Kvitova, but it marked her first time in the fourth round of a Major and heralded her rise into the top 60. But for both Kvitova and No2 seed Simona Halep, their first US Open quarter-finals, beckoned.
And by the end of play on this eventful Labor day, there would be an over-30 player lined up to contest all four of the men’s quarter-finals for the first time at the US Open since 1982.
The four men in question were Feliciano Lopez, 34 this month and into his first US Open quarter-final in his 14th consecutive US Open, 30-year-olds Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Stan Wawrinka, plus the oldest of the four, 34-year-old Roger Federer.
For on a day packed with firsts, it was left to the evergreen, ever-present Federer to keep things cool, calm and collected.
There had been rash comments ahead of his meeting with the in-form 6ft 10in American John Isner that theirs might be a long and close tussle, and the scoreline suggested just that: 7-6(0), 7-6(6), 7-5.
But that was to underplay the quality and style of the veteran’s victory, for it was Federer who remained unbroken throughout the match—he has only been broken twice, in his match here against Philipp Kohlschreiber—as he has been since he switched to the North American hard-courts after Wimbledon.
Instead, it was the impregnable Isner who suffered his first break of serve at the Open since the start of the 2014 tournament, a tally of 120 until Federer broke him in the final set.
It was also Federer who hit more winners, 55 of them for only 16 unforced errors, fired 15 aces—only two fewer than Isner—and all that in the face of an average first serve speed of 126mph from the American, the same as Federer’s fastest serve in the match.
Federer was also cool, calm and collected in his assessment of match: “Obviously John has one of the best serves in the game. Especially the pace on his second serve, it’s unreal. You just gotta hang around and make sure you don’t drop your serve!”
Easy to say, rather less easy to achieve against such an opponent.
He added: “You have to get a bit lucky to win a tie-break 7-0 against John, but as long as you win the tie-break, the score doesn’t really matter.”
Because yes, Federer did add one ‘first’ to the Labor Day catalogue: the first man to whitewash Isner in a tie-break.
The win, however, also took Federer into more familiar territory: an 11th US Open quarter-final and an Open Era record 46th Grand Slam quarter-final—extending his own record.
And soon after came still more familiar news for the Federer camp, when he confirmed his place at the World Tour Finals in London for a record 14th successive time—again extensing of his own landmark.
Federer is the most successful player to compete at the season’s finale, compiling a 48-11 record and winning a record six titles in 2003 and 2004, 2006 and 2007, and 2010 and 2011. He was forced to withdraw ahead of the final last year against Novak Djokovic with a back injury.
Of his qualification, he said: “It’s a great feeling to be able to qualify so early. I can’t believe it has been 14 years in a row and I look forward to returning to London in November. The atmosphere there is truly amazing.”
Before that, though, Federer has unfinished business in New York, where the five-time champion has failed to reach the final since losing to Juan Martin del Potro in 2009.
The next man in his path is No12 seed Richard Gasquet, a man who burst onto the tennis stage while still a teenager to beat Federer in their first ever meeting at the Monte Carlo Masters in 2005.
The Frenchman has managed only one further victory in a total of 16 matches, and that also on clay, but Gasquet reached the semis at Wimbledon this year, and won the first set against Murray in the Cincinnati quarters. He has also beaten some impressive opposition this week: No6 Tomas Berdych, No24 Bernard Tomic, Thanasi Kokkinakis and Robin Haase.
Gasquet’s tennis has certainly caught the eye of Federer:
“I’m not sure if I’ve seen Gasquet play as well as he is right now. I really like the way he played in Wimbledon, and also now here… But the matches I saw that he played against Stan and Novak at Wimbledon were impressive. He had a good attitude. He was fighting. Good shot selection. It was nice.
“Now he’s backing it up. I’m sure he gained confidence from Wimbledon. That’s why I expect it to be tougher than maybe in previous years against him or previous times. I feel like this could be one of the tougher Gasquets I’ve played!”
It will be easy on the eye, certainly: Both are players with touch, variety, and stylish one-handed backhands.
So the contrast for Federer from Isner could hardly be greater, making it all the more of a test—and all the more of a must-see.