Betrayed by his 38-year-old body, and his forehand, Roger Federer is done at the US Open.
Federer’s upper back and neck gave him trouble, he kept missing makeable shots and he kept giving away the lead against a guy he’d never lost to. It all added up to getting beaten 3-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 by 78th-ranked Grigor Dimitrov in the quarter-finals before a stunned crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“Grigor was able to put me away,” Federer said. “I fought with what I had.”
Chasing a 21st Grand Slam title, and sixth at Flushing Meadows, Federer appeared to be flexing his upper back after some points and said afterward that he began feeling something in that area in the afternoon.
He took a rare medical timeout after the fourth set, leaving the court with a trainer. When play resumed after a break of nearly ten minutes, Federer’s form never picked up.
“He started slowing down a little bit,” Dimitrov said. “For sure, in the end, he was not 100 per cent of himself.”
Federer kept contributing to Dimitrov’s cause, missing shots this way and that, long or wide or into the net.
The stats were staggering and showed exactly how off Federer was on this evening: 61 unforced errors, 33 on the forehand side. Compare that to his 40 total winners. And so his two-sets-to-one lead vanished.
“Start of the fourth wasn’t ideal,” Federer said. “Start of the fifth wasn’t ideal.”
Federer had been 7-0 in their head-to-head series, taking 16 of the previous 18 sets against Dimitrov, who is a decade younger and long ago was dubbed “Baby Fed” because of his similar one-handed backhand and all-court game.
The No 3-seeded Federer was aiming to become the oldest man to reach a Grand Slam semi-final since Jimmy Connors was 39 in 1991 at the US Open. He could have claimed a berth in his record 56th career major semi-final.
He joins Novak Djokovic on the sidelines less than two months after their epic five-set Wimbledon final. Defending US Open champion and No 1 seed Djokovic retired from his fourth-round match in New York because of a painful left shoulder.
Dimitrov will participate in a Slam semi-final for the third time, facing No 5 seed Daniil Medvedev on Friday. Medvedev has drawn plenty of attention at Flushing Meadows for the way he sarcastically thanked booing crowds, trolling them by suggesting their venom was why he kept winning.
Now maybe spectators will pay more attention to the 23-year-old Russian’s unusual brand of shape-shifting tennis, which carried him past three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka 7-6 (6), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 on Tuesday despite 12 double-faults and a body that’s just short of breaking down.
Dimitrov has struggled for much of 2019, failing to even get to a quarter-final. His Grand Slam results have been trending in the wrong direction, too: from a loss in the fourth round at the Australian Open to the third round at the French Open to the first round at Wimbledon.
So his ranking, as high as No 3 a couple of years ago, is nowhere near that now. His coaches, Andre Agassi and Radek Stepanek, aren’t anywhere near Flushing Meadows, either.
They opted to stay away from the tournament. Asked why, Dimitrov hemmed and hawed.
It’s certainly working so far.