U.S. Open: Robredo d. Federer
Combating career-long futility with complete commitment to every point, Robredo fought off 14 of 16 break points to topple an erratic Federer, 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-4, and storm into the quarterfinals for the first time. It was Federer’s first straight-sets loss in Flushing Meadows since he suffered a three-set defeat to his former doubles partner, Max Mirnyi, in the fourth round 11 years ago, and ensured the end of an era: For the first time since 2002, Federer will not contest a Grand Slam final in a calendar year.
Past history painted bleak prospects for the 31-year-old Spaniard, who was winless in 10 career clashes with Federer and 0-7 in prior fourth-round matches at the Open. In addition, he had won just three of their 27 sets. None of that mattered much to Robredo, who retreated near the back wall to return serve, showed a titanium spine beneath break-point pressure, and played tough tennis while Federer self-destructed.
Playing on Louis Armstrong Stadium for the first time in seven years, Federer was forced to play catch-up from the start as he dropped serve in the opening game, but the seventh seed broke back when Robredo served for the set at 5-4. In the tiebreaker Federer went up 3-2, but Robredo responded with a second-serve ace, benefited from successive errors, and lashed another ace out wide to seal the opener.
Muggy conditions left both men dripping; at one point, Robredo slipped on a puddle of sweat and crashed to the court, arising to face double break point. He erased both chances and wiped away a third with a flashy forehand winner down the line, eventually holding for a 3-2 second-set lead.
In a horrid eighth game, Federer completely lost the range on his favored forehand. Missing the mark on successive cross-court forehands to face triple break point, Federer sailed a backhand five feet long, donating a love break and a 5-3 lead to Robredo and sending an astonished crowd into hushed disbelief. Federer earned double break point in the ensuing game and moved up quickly to a mid-court forehand, but instead of playing the shot inside-out to the open court, he tried to go back behind the Spaniard. Robredo stood his ground and snapped off a forehand pass cross-court to save the first break point, then slammed a 127 M.P.H. serve winner wide to draw even at deuce.
The 17-time Grand Slam champion soon paid a greater price; on an uncommitted chip-and-charge, Robredo blasted a backhand pass up the line. When Federer netted a backhand, Robredo trotted to his court-side seat, saving six break points in building a two-set lead.
An out-of-sorts Federer wasn’t just missing shots, he was missing by wide margins, and his inability to adjust proved costly. Rather than pull back a bit and work his way into rallies—or try employ the Rod Laver tactic of driving the ball deep down the middle to regain his range—Federer continued to fire away, scattering 43 unforced errors to 25 for Robredo. His lowest point might have come after a netted drop shot and successive forehand errors, which saw Federer gift a love break to Robredo, who backed it up for 5-3. Two games later, Robredo slammed a service winner down the middle and screamed, celebrating a breakthrough win.
“I struggled throughout, which is not really satisfying, but Tommy did a good job of keeping the ball in play and making it difficult for me,” Federer said afterward. “I kind of feel like I beat myself without taking any credit away from Tommy.”
IBM Stat of the Match: No need to overthink this one: Federer's 43 unforced errors did him in, and converting just two of 16 on break point chances didn't help matters.
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