The first week of the US Open flew by for the men, the favorites advancing with ease and straight-sets matches dotting the draw’s landscape. But as the men exited Labor Day Weekend, the tide turned. All the favorites advancing early on resulted in a series of ultra-competitive, can’t-miss matches in Week 2: Nishikori-Raonic, Wawrinka-Robredo, Cilic-Simon, Nishikori-Wawrinka and Djokovic-Murray.
All lasted at least four sets, with high drama. Most went five, with high stakes.
And then Thursday night came and topped them all.
Gael Monfils came in playing like the new Monfils - a shot-making wonder who mowed through the draw in his first five matches - but exited like the old Monfils, strangely subdued. Meantime, Federer played with a champion’s mettle, fighting off two match points in the fourth set and rebounding from two sets down for the ninth time in his career to advance to the semifinals, also for the ninth time in his career.
There, he will face a resurgent Marin Cilic, who is playing his best tennis since 2010, when he soared into the Top 10. The towering Croat defeated a listless Tomas Berdych in straight sets during Thursday’s day session to advance to his first Grand Slam semi since the 2010 Australian Open and into his first-ever final four in Flushing Meadows.
Here’s a recap of the day that was and a look ahead to Day 12 of the 2014 US Open:
Match of the Day: Roger Federer has long been known for his excellence, his style and easy grace. But you don’t win 17 Grand Slam titles without a little grit, and Thursday night the Swiss showed that even when his game doesn’t flash, he knows how to gut out a victory. For the ninth time in his career – and for the first time since his very first US Open match, in 2000, against Peter Wessels – Federer came back from two sets down, outlasting the often brilliant but too-often erratic Gael Monfils, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2. With the victory, Federer advanced to the semifinals here for the first time since 2011 and kept alive his dream of a record sixth men’s singles title, which would surpass Jimmy Connors and Pete Sampras for the most in the Open era.
Upset of the Day: A year ago Marin Cilic was at home, the result of a suspension for taking an illicit glucose tablet. (He said it was accidental, and the suspension was reduced on appeal.) Cilic used that time off to work with his coach, Goran Ivanisivec, to improve his serve and to change his mindset so that he spent more time on court attacking, as befitting his 6-foot-6 frame. The hard work paid off handsomely Thursday afternoon, with the 14th-seeded Croat easily sweeping aside No. 6 Tomas Berdych, 6-2, 6-4, 7-6. The biggest difference? The serve. While most analysts would have given that edge to the Czech coming in, it was Cilic who fired 19 aces to five double faults on a breezy day, while Berdych managed just four aces against five double faults. As a result, Berdych will again be leaving a Grand Slam in the quarterfinals – he is 4-7 in Slam quarters in his career – while Cilic is moving into the semifinals at the US Open to face the inimitable Roger Federer, with his first major final in sight.
Players of the Day: By their lofty standards, 2014 has been a disappointing one for Bob and Mike Bryan. In 2013, they came to New York pursuing the calendar-year Grand Slam. This year they came pursuing a first Slam title of the season. But if they get it, it will be special. The Bryans on Thursday defeated fellow Americans Scott Lipsky and Rajeev Ram in a tough three-setter, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, to advance to their fifth US Open men’s doubles final. A victory would not only give them a record fifth men’s doubles crown – which would set the Open era mark (they currently share the record with Bob Lutz and Stan Smith) and tie the all-time mark (held by Richard Sears and James Dwight, whose last title came in 1887, seriously, 1887) – it would also deliver the twins their 100th career men’s doubles title. That is an unprecedented feat in men’s tennis, further solidifying the Bryans’ place among the all-time greats.
Quote of the Day: “It means a lot to me. I only won one title here in doubles. That was a while back, in ’98. I made some good matches, some great memories, but it’s been a while. So I really cherish this moment.” – 1997 US Open singles champion Martina Hingis, who teamed with Flavia Pennetta on Thursday to advance to the women’s doubles final, Hingis’ her first Grand Slam finale since the 2002 Australian Open
Looking Ahead: The women take center stage Friday at the US Open, with a pair of former finalists (one a five-time champion) taking on a pair of Grand Slam semifinal neophytes. First up is 28-year-old unseeded veteran Peng Shuai taking on 2009 finalist Caroline Wozniacki, the No. 10 seed who has flashed a new, more aggressive game to mix with her same fleet footwork in returning to a major semifinal for the first time since the 2011 Australian Open.
The day’s second semi features No. 1 seed and five-time women’s singles champion Serena Williams facing off against No. 17 Ekaterina Makarova, a quarterfinalist here a year ago. Makarova has already defeated Serena once this Open, in the women’s doubles quarterfinals. And the two have Slam history, with Makarova knocking off a somewhat hobbled Serena in the Australian Open round of 16 in 2012 – her only win four ties against the younger Williams sister – and Serena returning the favor in the third round of that year’s Open.