Two men’s quarterfinals top the bill on Day 11 of the 2014 US Open, as No. 2 seed Roger Federer takes on the No. 20 seed Gael Monfils, and Tomas Berdych, the No. 6 seed, squares off with No. 14 Marin Cilic. In terms of excitement, it doesn’t get much better than this: Four men, three matches away from their ultimate goal of standing alone at the end of this Flushing fortnight. As the days of this tournament narrow, so does the margin for error. It’s time to go big – or go home.
Five-time US Open champion Federer wrote the book on playing big at this event – and on all of this sport’s greatest stages for that matter. The all-time men’s leader in Grand Slam singles titles with 17, the Swiss has now reached the quarterfinals of a major for the 43rd time – an Open era record. His fourth-round win here on Tuesday was his 71st at Flushing Meadows, and his all-time mark at this event now stands at a staggering 71-9. This year’s US Open marks the 60th consecutive Grand Slam tournament in which he’s appeared, and Federer is certainly looking like a guy who’s been here before, showcasing a marvelous mix of energy and ease that have carried him to this point with the loss of just one set. After finishing runner-up to Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon in July, Federer put together a sizzling summer, playing his way into the finals of both the Toronto and Cincinnati stops on the Emirates Airline US Open Series, losing north of the border and winning south of it. That wave of momentum has only continued to swell here. Now 33, Federer is playing with a youthful exuberance and a laser-like focus that suggest he’s on track to play through to Monday.
Federer will need every bit of that focus tonight against Monfils, who has exhibited an unusual amount of cohesion and calm in playing his way through four rounds here. The Frenchman, whose appearance here in the quarters matches his best career US Open showing, has long been one of the game’s top talents – from the neck down. But he’s never really been able to combine his remarkable movement and shot-making skills with the sort of singular focus required to string together seven matches over the course of two weeks. Too often, he’s been the showman and allowed the show to pass him by. But this is a different Monfils, a much more focused competitor who has been winning matches and winning over the crowds here with a brilliantly balanced attack. Not only has he refused to lose focus, he’s yet to lose a set. But Monfils, who now has a career mark of 67-31 at the Slams, will need to raise his game another level to play his way through Federer, who owns a career 7-2 edge in their head-to-head encounters. The Frenchman played Federer tough in the third round of Cincinnati last month, matching the Swiss shot-for-shot before losing in three. This should be a good one; the electric atmosphere under the lights of Ashe only amping up the excitement. Give Monfils a set, but give the second seed the win.
Berdych, a semifinalist here in 2012, reached that same point at this year’s Aussie Open. The 28-year-old Czech also has reached the penultimate round at Roland Garros, in 2010, and was a Wimbledon finalist the same year. The No. 6 seed here, Berdych was on cruise control in speeding through Dominic Thiem in the fourth round, blitzing the young Austrian, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, in 1 hour, 38 minutes. In that match, the Czech won 85 percent of his first-serve points and broke Thiem five times and never lost his own serve, fighting off the meager seven break points he faced. It was the sort of clinic for which you’d normally have to pay $100 an hour. Berdych is now 103-44 at the majors and owns a lifetime 280-155 mark on hard courts.
No. 14 seed Cilic has taken a tougher route to his second consecutive quarterfinal at a major and his third career US Open quarterfinal. But then, “tough” is the 25-year-old Cilic’s middle name (“vitalan,” for those of you following along at home with your Croatian translation guide). The Croat arrived here in his third career US Open quarterfinal after outlasting the No. 26 seed Gilles Simon in a five-set, 5-7, 7-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 thriller that played out over 4 hours, 13 minutes. In that match, Cilic won 81 percent of his first serve points, served up 23 aces and had 70 winners. Cilic has won two titles this year on hard courts, in Zagreb and Delray Beach, and reached the final of a third, losing the Rotterdam final to Berdych. Clearly, the Croat is comfortable on cement, owning a 30-8 mark on hard courts this year and a 182-89 lifetime record on pavement. But he’s only been as far as the semis of a Slam once, at the 2010 Australian Open. To get to that point here, he’s going to have to get the best of a guy who’s been better in their career meetings, as Berdych leads those encounters 5-3. That said, Cilic has won two of their last three meetings, including a win over the Czech in the third round at Wimbledon this year. This is a tough one to call, but should be a fun one to watch. This one goes four, and Berdych goes on.