No. 19 seed Tommy Robredo stuns five time US Open champion Roger Federer 7-6,6-4,6-4 in fourth round
Roger Federer, a five-time champion here, is out of the US Open and, at 32, sliding steadily further away from the summit upon which he stood for so long. His straight sets loss on Monday night to Tommy Robredo – who two nights ago had to go four sets to stop Dan Evans's dream run in the third round – is the shock of the tournament, one of the shocks of the year. The score – 7-6 (3), 6-4, 6-4 in two hours and 24 minutes – was as uplifting for the Spaniard as it was dispiriting for Federer and his legion of fans. The loser looked devastated as he left for the locker room, appreciative of the consoling applause but left again to wonder if he will ever return to the top of the mountain, or even close to it. The defeat goes alongside Rafael Nadal's first-round exit at Wimbledon and Federer's own departure there two days later. So the hugely anticipated quarter-final
showdown between Nadal and Federer – they have never met at Flushing Meadows, and probably never will – is no more. Robredo, only a year younger than Federer and who has lost in the fourth round seven times in 12 visits to New York, broke and held at the start of a match switched from the main court to the Louis Armstrong Stadium in a rejigged schedule because of heavy rain during the day, dropped serve then rediscovered his composure under the weight of a sustained fightback by the world No 7. Federer told friends before this tournament he was feeling the best he has done all year, although he held fears that back spasms might seriously limit him in longer matches. Federer does not lack for celebrity admirers, and Anna Wintour, the British editor-in-chief of American Vogue, was prominent in his team's box. As a New York face and the subject of two movies, The Devil Wears Prada and The September Issue, Wintour is nearly as famous in this town as Federer is. But fame doesn't win points in
a tennis match. One victory away from his 41st quarter-final here to match the record of Jimmy Connors (who was courtside), Federer stirred memories with some handsome strikes from the centre of the court, yet he could not tame the resolute Spaniard in the tie-break, unable to lay a racket on Tommy's closing serve, the second of only four aces. Robredo had to win a tie-break to take the first set against the Birmingham shot-maker Evans, so he was battle-toughened for this considerably harder assignment. That night, also, Federer was imperious in dismissing the Frenchman Adrian Mannarino for the cost of only five games. He had not dropped a set, and nobody predicted the struggle to come against an opponent who was said to be carrying a leg injury and had just squeaked past a qualifier. This was the first time Federer had played on Armstrong since 2006; but, if the surroundings were unfamiliar, so was the performance; he had not lost to Robredo in 10 encounters and, in all that time, had never gone
behind. He had dropped just three of their 27 sets, and the only time he had lost a tie-break to him was in Vienna 11 years ago. His dominance was unquestioned. The hallmark of Federer at his best has always been his killer instinct. He does not waste chances. On Monday he had 16 chances to break and converted only two of them, as Robredo steeled himself for the upset. What compounded the mystery was Federer's sudden slump from a high level. He hit three wretched forehands to drop serve in the eighth game and, to the amazement of a stunned gathering, Robredo was serving for a two-set lead. The thought occurred: could Evans have done the same? Maybe not; Robredo is so familiar with the Swiss's game, he had the advantage of anticipation and consistently second-guessed him. Federer came to life under pressure, as he has done so often, and grabbed two break points to save the set, but lost control of the rally for Robredo to hit a clean winner from behind the baseline. Federer was forced into an over-hit
reply to a wide serve for deuce. Desperate, he charged the net behind a short ground stroke and was passed, to hand Robredo another set point. Even he must have been amazed when Federer gifted it to him, slicing a backhand into the net. Federer got a look at the start of the third, but, again could not capitalise in a seven-minute fourth game. Four games later, he paid for some poor shot selection at the net and Robredo was within two games of victory, with the ball in his hand at 4-3. The only time Federer has come from two sets down to win here was in his first appearance, in 2000 against the Dutchman Peter Wessels, who quit with an injury in the fifth set. As he prepared for an even bigger fightback here, Federer couldn't find the magic, drop shots drifting too long, forehands falling gently inside the baseline, and Robredo held his nerve. Federer served to stay in the championships at 3-5 and the tension was unbearable. His 42nd unforced error was a forehand long, but he cashed in behind a
serve-volley on his second serve and held with a perfectly placed backhand volley. Classy to the end, as ever. Federer continued to storm the net, but found it too with his untidy racket work and Robredo went up to the service line to serve for a victory over the greatest player of them all. A big serve down the middle struck Federer's racket, the crowd held its collective breath... and the ball rebounded like unrequited love into the net. It was over, and it was unbearably sad – except for Robredo, who played to his own red line throughout and fully deserved to reach the quarter-finals here for the first time. "I struggled throughout," Federer said afterwards. "Tommy did a good job to keep the ball in play and make it difficult for me today I missed so many opportunities. [My] rhythm was off." While he said he no issues with the back injury that has inconvenienced him this year, he conceded, "It's been a difficult last three months. My consistency is just not quite there
yet. Against a quality player, it becomes more difficult to keep that level up. "I feel I beat myself, without taking any credit away from Tommy. Clearly he was making sure he was making many balls. It was up to me to make the difference and I couldn't. I kind of self destructed." It is absurd to think we have seen the last of Federer at this level. He played superbly in the first three matches. But we might not see the Roger adored by millions again. We might not even see this version of him in the ATP World Tour Finals in London in November, if he slips outside the top eight in the world. As Louis Armstrong said, that's life.