Updated Sep 4, 2018 2:39 AM EDT
NEW YORK — Roger Federer served poorly. Closed poorly, too. And now he’s gone, beaten at the U.S. Open by an opponent ranked outside the top 50 for the first time in his career. Looking slow and tired on a sweltering night in Arthur Ashe Stadium, Federer double-faulted 10 times, failed to convert a trio of set points and lost 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (3) in the fourth round to John Millman in a match that began Monday and concluded at nearly 1 a.m. on Tuesday.
It’s only the second time in Federer’s past 14 appearances at the U.S. Open that he’s lost before the quarterfinals. He is, after all, a five-time champion at the tournament, part of his men’s-record haul of 20 Grand Slam titles.
For Federer, it was all about the heat and the humidity. With the temperature in the 80s, even with the sun down, and the humidity at about 75 percent, he was unable to summon his usual verve.
“Was just one of those nights where, I guess, I felt I couldn’t get air. There was no circulation at all. I don’t know, for some reason I just struggled in the conditions tonight. It’s one of the first times it’s happened to me,” the 37-year-old said. “It’s uncomfortable. Clearly, just keep on sweating more and more and more and more as the match goes on. You lose energy as it goes by. But John was able to deal with it better.”
So much for that much-anticipated matchup between Federer and 13-time major champion Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals. Instead, it’ll be the 55th-ranked Millman, who had never made it past the third round at a Slam until last week, taking on No. 6 seed Djokovic.
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“I’m probably in a little bit of disbelief,” the Reuters news agency reports Millman said after the match. “I have so much respect
for Roger and everything he’s done for the game. He’s a hero of mine.Today he was not at his best, but I’ll take it.”
Millman was adamant he wouldn’t be intimidated by Federer, and perhaps was helped by having spent time practicing together a few months ago ahead of the grass-court portion of this season.
John Millman, of Australia, celebrates after defeating Roger Federer, of Switzerland, in a round of 16 match of the 2018 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York
Still, this was a shocker. Not simply because Federer lost – he entered the day 28-0 at the U.S. Open, and 127-1 in all Grand Slam matches, against foes below No. 50 in the ATP rankings – but how he lost.
Start with this: Federer held two set points while serving for the second at 5-4, 40-15 and did not pull through; he had a set point in the third at 6-5 in the tiebreaker, but again was stymied.
In the fourth set, he went up a break at 4-2, yelling “Come on!” and getting all of those rowdy spectators in their “RF” gear on their feet, prompting the chair umpire to repeatedly plead for silence. But Federer uncharacteristically got broken right back with a sloppy game, most egregiously when he slapped what should have been an easy putaway into the net.
And then there was his serve.
In the final tiebreaker, he double-faulted twice in a row.
The first obvious signs of trouble for Federer came far earlier, in the second game of the second set. He started that 15-minute struggle by missing 18 of his initial 20 first serves. While he eventually held there, he needed to save seven break points along the way. It was clear that the 37-year-old Federer was not at his best.
Much earlier, Djokovic left the court for a medical timeout – the second time during the tournament he’s sought help from a doctor because of harsh weather – during what would become an otherwise straightforward 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 victory over 68th-ranked Joao Sousa of Portugal.
“I’m not 21 anymore. That was 10 years ago. I still don’t feel old. But at the same time, there is a little biological clock that is not really working in your favor,” Djokovic told the crowd afterward. “Sometimes, you just have to survive.”
He reached the quarterfinals for an 11th consecutive appearance in New York as he bids for a third U.S. Open championship and 14th Grand Slam trophy.
The other quarterfinal on the bottom half of the draw will be a rematch of the 2014 U.S. Open final: No. 7 Marin Cilic against No. 21 Kei Nishikori.
Cilic, who beat Nishikori four years ago for his only major title, was a 7-6 (6), 6-2, 6-4 winner against No. 10 David Goffin, while Nishikori advanced by defeating Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-3, 6-2, 7-5.
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