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Djokovic, Ferrer advance to semis
Juan Martin del Potro won this US Open title in 2009 and, under the lights at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Thursday night, went out and showed a huge crowd just how well he can play.
And he lost.
He lost in three straight sets that took 3 hours and 6 minutes to complete — 6-2, 7-6, 6-4 — because he was facing the current champion, a man of steel called Novak Djokovic.
The massive serving, and the raking, bullet-like ground strokes that the tall Argentine fired at Djokovic would have destroyed most players. But the Serb, even in a desperately close-fought, 84-minute second set, had an answer to everything.
He surprised del Potro, who beat him for the bronze medal at the Olympics on Wimbledon’s grass, by his ability to handle huge first serves and, as usual, he defended like a man possessed.
“The second set was crucial,” Djokovic admitted afterward. “It could have gone either way, really, but I managed to play a great game at 5-4 and turn things around. I was very much aware of how good he is. He loves playing here, he loves the big stage. So I had to be aggressive and take chances.”
Del Potro, philosophical as ever despite his disappointment, said, “I had a chance in the second set, but in the tiebreak he got a little bit lucky hitting lines. But he served very well and played better than me at the end. We played at a very high level for three hours, and I had only a little chance to change the way of the match. If you don’t take your chances, you lose.”
Despite dips in his form at various times this year, Djokovic now looks as good as he was while cleaning up three Grand Slam titles in 2011. If he maintains this level, it will be increasingly difficult to wrest the crown from him.
But he is showing no signs of complacency just because Rafael Nadal could not play and Roger Federer was defeated on Wednesday night by Thomas Berdych.
“For me, it’s really the same,” Djokovic said. “I take very seriously whoever I have to face. You have Andy Murray, Thomas Berdych, David Ferrer and myself (in the semifinals), and we’re all top-10 players. Many people were surprised that Federer lost, but Berdych played very well and deserved it.”
During the afternoon session, Arthur Ashe ticket holders didn’t get to see a superstar but, instead, got a rattling good tennis match played out by two incredible athletes that lasted 4 hours, 31 minutes.
Ferrer, the oft-overlooked Spaniard who will be trying to fill Nadal’s shoes in Davis Cup play for Spain against the US in eight days time, ended up the victor, somehow outlasting Serbia’s second-best player Janko Tipsarevic 6-3, 6-7, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6.
Ferrer and Djokovic will face each other in one semifinal on Saturday, while Murray and Berdych will meet in the other.
Tipsarevic, the Serb who lives in Djokovic’s shadow just as Ferrer lives in Nadal’s, played some of the best tennis of his life and seemed to be heading toward his first Grand Slam semi when he led 4-1 in the fifth set.
Then his foot went from under him and he fell heavily on the hard surface. He appeared to be all right, but, a game later, needed to have his right thigh strapped.
“I don’t want to blame the fall, the fact that I got broken at 4-2,” said Tipsarevic, who looked like a very tired tennis player when he dragged himself into the post-match news conference.
“When I rewind the game in my head, I think I played a really good game at 4-2. He was defensive but able to pass me every single time I went to the net. Even though it’s really painful, I don’t want to blame that on the loss today.”
Ferrer, a quiet but highly popular figure on the tour, was fulsome in his praise of Tipsarevic.
“The match was very emotional,” Ferrer said. “My opponent, he deserves also to win this match, no? In one tiebreak it’s a lottery and I was lucky in important moments.”
Tipsarevic felt he was only lucky at one crucial moment. It came when Ferrer went 0-30 down on his serve at 1-4 in that fifth set.
“Love-30, second serve, I challenge the serve and it was, by two millimeters, touching the line," Tipsarevic said. "I remember his ball toss was terrible for that second serve and the ball just slid into my body. I could see that he was feeling the pressure. I felt like if I won that point, the match would really go in my favor.”
As it was, Ferrer was able to hold for 4-2 and break in the next game. The momentum, which had been fully with Tipsarevic as he darted into the net at every opportunity — winning 33-of-50 points on the volley — suddenly switched back to the indomitable Spaniard whose ability to chase down the widest, deepest, hardest hit shots drew gasps from the crowd.
The tennis was consistently spectacular; the quality high; the stroke play amazing, and it was only fitting that both players received a standing ovation as the fifth set tiebreak began.
It suggested that this is the sort of match crowds prefer. A superstar winning 6-0, 6-1 or a high-class contest between two fully committed and evenly matched players?
I think, for most people, the second choice wins.
There is little likelihood of a one-sided contest on Saturday when Djokovic will have to work hard to wear down Ferrer, who defends just as well as himself, and Murray faces Berdych.
The big Czech has a winning record over the Scot, and the Olympic gold medalist will have to make sure he does not start as slowly as he did against Marin Cilic in the previous round.
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