US Open 2015: Impressive Federer and Wawrinka beat opposition and rain to set 20th meet

Roger Federer beats Richard Gasquet in straight sets to set up a semi-final clash with Stan Wawrinka at the US Open

It had to come: It always does in the hot and steamy New York.

For while Novak Djokovic and Marin Cilic had their feet up in readiness for Friday’s semi-finals, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka watched the skies and crossed their fingers.

The rain was forecast on a day when Arthur Ashe hosted four quarter-finals, and with Simona Halep and Flavia Pennetta taking over five hours to win their three-set thrillers, plus delays as the first storm blew past, the schedule followed the rain out of Flushing Meadows.

There would, then, have to be compromise to get the men’s line-up completed before the next and bigger storm arrived. A that meant Swiss friends and rivals Federer and Wawrinka would have to play their matches in parallel, so No5 Wawrinka’s contest against No15 Kevin Anderson headed to Armstrong, a smaller, more exposed arena where the crowds press in on the court—and with such an unexpected bonus, the crowds did press in.

For this was no foregone conclusion. Wawrinka, a two-time Grand Slam champion, who beat the top two seeds Federer and Djokovic to win the French Open three months ago, had not fallen short of the quarter-finals in his last five Grand Slams, and was a semi-finalist in New York in 2013. He thrives on the big stage at the big events, and was rising again to the US Open challenge: He had dropped just one set, though Anderson would be his first seed.

The tall South African was also riding a wave of form, arrived here with the Winston-Salem title, and reached his first Major quarter-final after his first top-10 Grand Slam win, in a powerful, focused victory over No3 seed Andy Murray. What’s more, Anderson had a four-match winning streak over Wawrinka.

Anderson, though, could never summon that same energy and precision against the Swiss. It began in the seventh game, when the man who had hit 25 aces past Murray double faulted on break point, and Wawrinka served out the set 6-4.

Anderson’s serving improved in the second set, but the Swiss responded by lifting his own level, roaring himself on at each key point. Again it required just one break for Wawrinka to take the set, 6-4. The writing was now on the wall, for while Wawrinka did not drop a point on serve in the 25-minute third set and made just one unforced error, Anderson—mentally if not physically weary after four back-to-back tournaments ahead of New York and his unprecedented run here—could muster only two winners for 12 errors, to concede a bagel set, 6-0.

Surely, though, Federer would face a longer, tougher test against another in-form man, Richard Gasquet, who had bounced back from a low of 28 in April after persistent back problems.

The flair-packed Frenchman arrived in New York at No12 after two early-season titles, a semi-final run at Wimbledon, and with wins over Anderson, Cilic and Wawrinka to his name. This week alone, he had worked his way through a tough draw with energy and confidence, and with hints of the attacking player who burst onto the scene as a teenager in 2005 to beat Federer in Monte Carlo.

He outlasted Thanasi Kokkinakis, who retired in their fifth set opener, then dominated another Aussie, the No24 seed Bernard Tomic, for the loss of just eight games, and took out No6 seed Tomas Berdych in four sets.

His was, of course, a mountain to climb: Gasquet had only beaten Federer twice, both times on clay, and since the last, a classic in Rome over four years ago, their encounters had not even been close.

To his credit, Gasquet came out with real purpose: busy, bustling, chasing the pace along, and he demanded a high-quality response from the Swiss. He got it.

Federer had lost just one match since the season switched to grass: He backed up the title in Halle with a final run at Wimbledon and then a title run in Cincinnati. Since turning 34 in early August, he had yet to drop a set, and that record would hold through a 10th straight match on his way to his 50th win of the year.

His first break of Gasquet came in the sixth game, with a perfectly-timed ghost to the net and a lunging volley winner, 4-2. He had the chance to break again in the eighth game but instead served it out, 6-3.

Gasquet continued to gee himself up, bouncing and pouncing at every opportunity, and initially it drew plenty of errors from Federer—10 in each of the first two sets compared with 11 overall for the Frenchman. But the more Gasquet pressed, the more Federer lifted his level.

Against one of the most effective and elegant backhands in the business in Gasquet, the Swiss fired a searing off forehand cross-court winner to break in the third. Gasquet threatened briefly at deuce in the sixth but the pressure was beginning to tell, and he double faulted to hand break and set to Federer, 6-3.

With any scoreboard pressure now removed from the Swiss man’s shoulders, he began to break out every shot in the book, to the delight of the partisan crowd. He broke to love in the second game, and continued to throw in exquisite drop shots from the baseline, cross-court forehands onto the lines, pitch-perfect one-two serve-and-winner moves… and Gasquet shook his head in despair.

With his will broken, the Frenchman would only win the fourth game and just 10 points in the set—three winners to Federer’s 15, three errors to Federer’s one. The Swiss put Gasquet out of his misery, 6-1, after 83 minutes with a round 50 winners, and 23 points won at the net.

Federer did not even face a break point, and has only been broken twice—in his match here against Philipp Kohlschreiber—since he switched to the North American hard-courts. No wonder he heads into his 38th Grand Slam semi-final with confidence: “I think I played a very good match, I felt the ball great from the return—it helped playing [John] Isner in the previous round and seeing those massive serves. This is going to help me also physically and mentally save energy; I hope because of that, I can play better in the semi-finals.”

He then spoke of his 20th meeting against Wawrinka, their first since his fellow Swiss beat him in straight sets in the quarters of the French Open.

“He’s improved a lot and I couldn’t be happier to play him here. It’s two Swiss in the semis of the US Open, it’s very cool for the both of us.

“He can consistently bring the power on forehand, backhand, and serve almost anybody when he gets hot. I’m happy he found that level of play. Two Slams, got Davis Cup, Olympic gold, won a Masters 1000. He has had a wonderful career.

“Looking forward to playing him, because he definitely is a big test and a big challenge for me. He beat me in straights at the French, so I hope I can do better this time.”

Wawrinka, for his part, also acknowledged that now more than ever he was able to pressure his illustrious compatriot: “I think now we are both nervous when we enter the court. Before it was only me, I was nervous because I knew I wasn’t at his level. That’s a big difference, because that shows how much he knows that I can play at his level, how much he knows that I can try to play my game and not just try to react to what he’s doing.”

It is not just from Roland Garros that Wawrinka can draw inspiration, either. Their five matches between the end of 2012 and last year’s climax at the World Tour Finals were desperately close affairs. This could be the best one yet.

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