I don’t even know where or how to begin. My thoughts are all scattered in various bullet points and headlines: ‘Roger Federer is through to the US Open SFs for the 9th time in his career’; ‘This is the first time Roger has reached the US Open SFs since 2011’; ‘Roger has reached his 36th Grand Slam SF, which is of course just extending his all-time record’. But embedded in the stack of data is this: ‘Roger Federer saves 2 match points to reach the SFs’. And also this: ‘This is the first time Roger has won a Grand Slam match after facing match points’. I think those two in particular should tell you how tumultuous this 5 set match was.
The QF match started off in the worst possible way for the Maestro. Basically nothing worked. His first serves were on a holiday and his returning was average at best. Monfils meanwhile brought that rare version of himself that he had displayed throughout the tournament, Monfils the tennis player rather than the entertainer. He reigned in the crazy and played to win and the results were immediate. He saved two early break points in the set and then held serve resolutely despite not having many first serves of his own. And then in the 5th game of the set with Roger serving he offered the Frenchman break points, one of which Gael took. Just like that, Gael was up 3*-2 and quickly consolidated to 4-2*. After that, both players held which meant Gael was able to serve it out, 6-4 in 41 minutes.
On to set 2 and Roger started to serve a bit better. But then his returns started to falter even more. It didn’t help that Gael’s serves got better as well. Instead of getting his act together Federer seemed to sink deeper into his funk as he got broken in the first game of the set. After that, even though he held quite comfortably, he couldn’t dent the Frenchman’s service games as the set raced to 5-3* with Roger to serve to stay in the set. But Roger blinked again as Gael broke him one more time to seal the set, 6-3 in 37 minutes. Monfils was nearly untouchable in this set committing only 4 unforced errors compared to Roger’s 13.
The match had quickly gone from bad to dire in 78 minutes. The equation was now simple. Roger would need to make a heroic comeback and win the next 3 sets in order to extend his stay in New York. No room for error any more. Obviously Roger did the math himself and he started the third set fighting. He broke Gael in the first game and consolidated with a love hold to take the lead for the first time in the match at 2-0*. But Gael was still in the zone and quickly recovered with his own love hold and then as Roger blinked, Gael had 3 breakpoints on the Swiss. Roger saved the first 2 but couldn’t save the third and the set was back on serve at 2 all. But this was a different Roger compared to the first 2 sets. He kept pressuring Gael immediately, got one break point and took it with a winner to take the lead again, 3*-2. From then on, Roger made no mistakes. Despite Gael easily holding serve, he didn’t get a peak into Roger’s. At 5*-4, Roger served the set out to love, 6-4 in just 34 minutes. Both players played a very high level of tennis in the set but Roger was absolutely clinical; just 1 unforced error with 12 winners.
Set 4 and both players struggled a bit more in this set than the last, and Roger’s first serve went off to the beach again leaving him behind to deal with the Frenchman alone. Roger broke Gael in the 3rd game of the set to go up 2*-1 and yet again Gael broke him right back to level the score at 2 all. After that both players held, often precariously, but they held. Soon Gael was up 5-4* with Roger having to serve to stay in the match. And then horror of horrors, 2 bad errors from our champ gave Monfils 2 match points. Roger had never saved match points at a Grand Slam to go and then win the match. But the man is still re-writing history as we speak so there’s a first time for everything. Roger came in behind his serve for the 1st match point and then watched with the rest of us in slow-motion as Gael’s shot sailed long. One saved and one to go. A great serve from the Swiss, a short rally ending with a forehand winner from Roger and Boom! 2 match points saved, and we had deuce! An error from Gael gave the Swiss advantage and a great serve gave him the set! We were level at 5 all!
Arthur Ashe broke out into thunderous applause that continued well beyond the usual time as thousands in the stadium realized what they had witnessed. Roger Federer, 17 time Grand Slam Champion had shown them what had gotten him those records was not just his godly talents but his mettle, his spirit, his will to win. The crowd knew they had seen something special and the love he felt from them definitely helped to carry him through this difficult match.
Gael had to start serving even as the applause continued but I’m sure he knew the momentum had changed. Roger pushed him to a deuce and then another deuce before Monfils threw in a double double-fault to gift the Maestro the break. Roger wasn’t going to mess it up this time and he held to 15 to take the set 7-5 in 61 minutes. 2 sets a piece and we were headed to a final 5th set!
Roger was in a very confident and aggressive mood at the start of the set. He immediately broke Gael and then quickly held to go up 2-0*. With some difficulty Monfils managed to get on the board but Roger’s first serves had come back from the beach by then and helped Roger get a love hold for him to go up 3-1*. Monfils was feeling the pressure and his level dropped a bit which was enough to give Roger 3 break points in his service game. Roger needed only one to go up a double break, 4*-1. Roger consolidated the double break and Monfils was left to serve to stay in the match at 1*-5. He held to love, a last burst of exemplary tennis from the Frenchman, and it was up to Roger to serve for the match. The Maestro didn’t even blink as he served it out to love. Game, set, match, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 in 3 hours and 20 minutes. Here is the on-court interview, a clip of the fabulous part where he saved 2 match points, the presser and the stats.Roger’s game was all over the place this match, though of course from set 3 onwards, he kept improving and by the 5th set you could see he was in full flow. He was also splendid at the net, winning 53 of 74(!) points. Hopefully that will give him confidence going into the SFs. But this match was less about Roger’s tennis and more about Roger the champion. I never understand why Roger is always thought of as all-talent and no fight. In fact, a great example of someone with that description was right across the net from the Swiss. Gael Monfils has a ton of talent, no question. He has extraordinary athletic abilities, fantastic shot-making skills and is probably the fastest mover on court in the entire tour. Yet, he doesn’t have any Grand Slam titles or even finals to show for it. Talent is a very important part of the formula but talent alone does not equal success.
Roger didn’t get to 80 titles without having the discipline, determination, will, self-belief and fighting spirit needed to overcome a series of hungry opponents in a row. And times like this QF, when his best tennis might not be there, these attributes of a champion’s mind to go for that extra shot, are what bail him out. Roger has won 977 career matches but I’m positive not all of them were won with his amazing tennis abilities but rather his desire to win.
Roger’s next opponent is Marin Cilic, a 25 year old player with a big game who gave Roger hell only 4 weeks ago in Toronto when Roger needed 9 match points to finally eek out the win. Marin is ranked 16 in the world but has been ranked as high as 9. He is enjoying a resurgent year and playing the best tennis of his life. He has already won 2 titles this year and defeated Berdych in straight sets to reach the SFs. Not only that but he’s had more rest than Roger and is used to the day time conditions unlike Roger who has been playing mostly at night. The H2H is 5-0 in favour of Roger but that doesn’t mean much here. Recent form counts for more and Marin is having a great time. He has nothing to lose and everything to win. Let’s hope reaching the SFs is all he is allowed to enjoy 😉
But before I go, we still have a few hours left before all the frazzling begins. A few hours to enjoy what Roger accomplished with this win. So without further ado…
- Roger Federer is through to the US Open SFs for the 9th time
- Roger has reached his 36th Grand Slam SF, which is an all-time record.
- This is the first time Roger has won a Grand Slam match after facing match points.
- Roger now holds the record for most hardcourt match wins with 599, surpassing Agassi’s 598 wins.
- Roger is now at fourth place for the most US Open match wins with 72 wins. He has moved past Sampras who won 71 matches.
- This was Roger’s 26th US Open night match win.
The SF match will be the 2nd SF of the day and will not start before 1:30pm local time. Here’s hoping for a great win by the Maestro! Allez Roger!