For the first time since 2003, Roger Federer will not be part of the semifinal lineup at the U.S. Open. The five-time champion and current world No. 1 ran into a top-form Tomas Berdych under the lights on Arthur Ashe Stadium and, despite a determined fight back in the third set, was ousted 7-6(1), 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.
Although Federer had a winning career record of 11-4 over the tall Czech going in, losing to Berdych at big tournaments is not a new experience for the Swiss maestro. In 2010, Berdych stunned Federer, then the reigning champion, in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in four sets and then went on to beat Novak Djokovic and reach the final before losing to Rafael Nadal.
The question often asked in the tennis world is why this big power hitter has not achieved more than a single appearance in a Grand Slam final. Lack of self-belief had certainly held him back in the past, but there was no evidence of that Wednesday night.
Normally stone-faced on court, Berdych was relaxed enough early in the match to grin broadly after Federer pulled off a lucky winner – a sure sign that Berdych was enjoying the experience of playing at night on Ashe for the first time rather than being overawed by it.
Having played Federer so often, Berdych knew that, if he produced his very best form, he would have a chance of causing an upset.
"There is something in my game that he doesn’t like," the 26-year-old said. "He likes to dictate the tempo of the match, but my pace can take him out of his comfort zone."
Certainly, Federer rarely looked comfortable after his initial attempt to attack the Czech’s game was rebuffed at every turn by some rock-solid returning.
"Maybe it’s a good match-up for him," said a clearly disappointed Federer. "He probably created more than I did, and that’s why he ended up winning. I’m disappointed, you know. I really expected myself to play better tonight, especially at night when I have had such a good record."
Federer referred to Berdych as a shot maker, and it was that ability to explode out of rallies that enabled the Czech to snatch the fourth set away from Federer before he, or most of crowd, realized what was happening.
"The fourth set all of a sudden ended quickly," Federer said. "He played two good points on my serve at 30-all. That’s always a danger with Tomas. He’s a shot maker, so he can take some chances. But I should never have lost that first set. Anyway, it happens. Move on."