WHAT HAPPENED: Storming back from two sets down for the ninth time in his storied career, stubbornly fighting off two match points in the fourth set, Roger Federer turned back Gael Monfils, the No. 20 seed, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2, to reach the semifinals of the US Open for the ninth time.
“When I was down two match points, that’s when I wasn’t feeling so great anymore,” said Federer. “I thought: ‘This is it. This is the last point, man. Just go down fighting, don’t miss an easy shot and let him have it.’
“But I stayed in the match and somehow turned it around.”
Monfils played spirited and focused tennis for four sets, as he had all tournament in his unlikely run to the quarters, during which he won 14 straight sets. Yet surrendering those two match points left the Frenchman deflated in the final set, unable to put the disappointment behind him.
Federer’s exuberant comeback electrified the capacity night crowd on Arthur Ashe Stadium. It was Federer’s 26th win under the lights on Arthur Ashe Stadium, with his only loss coming two years ago in the same round to Tomas Berdych, who was eliminated earlier in the afternoon by Federer's next opponent, No. 14 Marin Cilic.
“It was unbelievable,” Federer said of the crowd support. “It think it was awesome for both guys. Gael played such incredible tennis that the crowd has to get into it.”
Monfils had two opportunities to seize the match, and advance to the semifinal for a first time, with Federer serving at 4-5 in the fourth set. But Federer saved both. The Swiss struck a confident forehand down the line to erase the deficit and then smacked a service winner down the “T,” sliding away from Monfils, to notch the set at 5-all.
Monfils then donated his next service game to Federer with consecutive double faults. The Swiss, handed a lifeline, confidently served out the game to take the match to a deciding fifth set.
Monfils promptly lost his composure in the final set. The Frenchman was immediately broken, and Federer reeled off five straight games. The five-time US Open champion ran away with the final set behind a litany errors off the Frenchman’s racquet, including one throwaway between-the-legs shot.
For two sets, an edgy Federer was wholly flummoxed by the unpredictable game of Monfils, who mixed things up with soft slices, drop shots and sudden power. Federer didn’t appear to have a game plan to deal with either Monfils or the windy conditions inside Ashe.
Yet the No. 2 seed roared back in the third set, finally finding his range. In a dramatic turnaround from an error-plagued beginning, Federer struck 12 winners and committed just a single unforced error in the set.
The fifth and final set was a disappointing finish to a quarterfinal matchup that will likely be remembered as one of the best matches of the 2014 Open. A resurgent, ageless Federer and a focused Monfils – whom John McEnroe has called “probably one of the greatest athletes ever to play our sport” – was an enticing prospect.
And the two players’ skill sets – Federer’s precise shotmaking and Monfils’s raw, entertaining gifts – were made for the primetime lights of New York.
WHAT IT MEANS: Federer returns to the US Open semifinals for the first time since 2011. He now holds an 8-2 career head-to-head over Monfils, a former world No. 7, although the Frenchman had won two of the past four encounters. Federer is 9-1 in US Open quarterfinals and 26-1 at night in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The last, and only, time Federer came back from two-sets-to-love down at the US Open was in his debut in Flushing Meadows in 2000, when he defeated Peter Wessels of the Netherlands.
THE QUESTION: With Federer the strong favorite to defeat Cilic in the semifinals, can the Swiss add a sixth US Open crown to what would be a resume of record 18 Slams?