Roger Federer will play Novak Djokovic in the US Open semifinals on Saturday, their third consecutive clash at Flushing Meadows after the final of 2007 and the semifinals of last year.
Top seed and defending champion Federer reached the last four for a record 22nd time in a Grand Slam tournament despite a stirring late show from Robin Soderling, winning 6-0, 6-3, 6-7 (6/8), 7-6 (8/6).
Fourth-seeded Djokovic won a dour, stamina-sapping encounter with Spain’s Fernando Verdasco 7-6 (7/2), 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 to reach the semifinals for the third consecutive year.
Federer, who is bidding to win a record-equalling sixth straight US Open title here, looked to be cruising toward a comfortable straight-sets win before Swede Soderling, with nothing to lose, opened his shoulders and blasted away with his huge forehand.
He stunned Federer by bouncing back from 0-4 down in the third set tie-break to force a fourth set and in that, in another tie-break, he even had a set-point to take it all the way before Federer won the final three points of the match.
”It was so close towards the end and it’s a great relief to come through because he played better and better as the game went on,” Federer said.
”It was too easy at the start, but he battled his way back into it and showed what a great player he is.
”It was cool when it started, and being from Switzerland that was OK with me, but then it got cooler,and him being from Sweden that was in his favour.”
Turning to his semifinal against Djokovic, Federer said: ”He has done well to come through and put himself in this position.
”He played a solid match today [Wednesday] and he has done well against me in the past, but I beat him in Cincinnati so I hope to build on that and beat him on Saturday.”
Soderling, who lost for the 12th consecutive time to Federer, said that he had played so badly in the first two sets that it could only get better.
”I think I played the last two sets very well,” he said.
”I felt like I really had to go for the shots, because the longer the point went on, the better he played.
”So a lot of the points I won, I won in three or two, three or four shots.”
Djokovic looked distinctly out of sorts for most of his match against the 10th-seeded Verdasco, losing seven games in a row from a set and 1-0 up.
But he dug deep to counter his big-hitting opponent and after the Serb took a two-sets-to-one lead, the Spaniard started showing signs that he was struggling with a stomach muscle strain.
Once Djokovic had broken serve in the fourth set, there was only one winner, with Verdasco struggling to push off on his serve and hit his trademark forehands.
”Mentally it was important for me to overcome today’s challenge and get into the semifinals [of a Grand Slam tournament] for the first time in 2009, so I feel a kind of relief,” Djokovic said.
”I just hope to continue to play well and challenge Roger Federer.
”It wasn’t a great first set. We both made a lot of unforced errors and I was lucky to get through in the tie-break.
”In the second set I wasn’t able to find any rhythm and he deserved to win it, but I managed to come back and that’s what matters.”
The two remaining quarterfinals on Thursday will see Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina take on Marin Cilic of Croatia in a battle of giant 20-year-olds and third-seed Rafael Nadal go up against Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez. — AFP