Dimitrov Stuns Federer at U.S. Open, Adding to Chaos on the Men’s Side
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On a day when Daniil Medvedev reached an amicable truce with fans at the United States Open, the real villain turned out to be Grigor Dimitrov.
Dimitrov happily took over the mantle of bad guy by stunning Roger Federer, 3-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, to oust the most successful, and arguably the most popular, player on the men’s tour.
Federer’s surprise defeat means the dream matchup between him and No. 2 Rafael Nadal will not happen. Those two greats have played 41 times in their careers, including nine times in major finals — but never at the U.S. Open. This year they were enticingly on opposite sides of the draw.
“Just low, just disappointed it’s over because I did feel like I was actually playing really well after a couple of rocky starts,” a dejected Federer said. He added, “I’m looking forward to family time and all that stuff. So life’s all right.”
He had planned to go farther, but instead Dimitrov, who was 0-7 against Federer before this week, will play No. 5 Medvedev on Friday in the first U.S. Open semifinal for both of them. Medvedev beat No. 23 Stan Wawrinka, 7-6 (6), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, in an afternoon match Tuesday and then apologized to the fans for his behavior in two previous matches, drawing some cheers.
Still, he was probably expecting to reclaim the role of supervillain in a semifinal against Federer. But Dimitrov had other plans.
“I knew what to do,” he said.
The strategy, Dimitrov said, was to keep the 38-year-old Federer out on court as long as possible, hoping he would become fatigued or break down. Both apparently happened. Federer complained of a sore upper back and neck area and had to receive a medical timeout after the fourth set.
Federer’s discomfort may have explained his staggering number of unforced errors: 61 over all, including 33 off his backhand.
He said that the problem had appeared earlier in the day and that he had not felt it in his first four matches. After the first set Tuesday, Federer never looked comfortable.
“I felt it the whole time,” he said. “That’s it. I was able to play with it. My bad not to win.”
Federer has won 20 Grand Slams, the men’s record, and his total includes five U.S. Opens, but he has not won the championship at Flushing Meadows since 2008. He has not reached the semifinal stage since 2015, and last year he was ousted by John Millman in the fourth round.
This year held more promise, especially since he played well enough in July to come within a few points of winning Wimbledon. And when No. 1 Novak Djokovic was upset by Wawrinka in the fourth round of the U.S. Open, it raised hopes even higher that Federer would be able to go through and possibly meet Nadal in the final here for the first time.
Instead, Federer exited without the trophy for the 11th straight year.
“I’m happy to get a bit of break now,” he said. “Go back to practice, reassess and attack from there.”
In the previous round, Federer had dismissed No. 15 David Goffin without much trouble and appeared to be cruising into the second week of the tournament. But he looked like an entirely different player against Dimitrov, who went into the match ranked No. 78 in the world, largely because he took time off to deal with an injury.
Dimitrov, a 28-year-old Bulgarian, was ranked No. 3 as recently as 2017, but then his ranking plummeted, and his record in matches this year before the U.S. Open was only 12-15.
“It was that low that I didn’t want to even go there anymore,” Dimitrov said. “It was injury, losing points, ranking. That’s the lowest point for any player. I think the past six or seven months have been pretty rough for me.”
There were moments on Tuesday when Federer flashed some of the best shots in his arsenal — a jumping forehand winner or a backhand down the line. But too many other times he hit terrible unforced errors or failed to put away easy winners, allowing Dimitrov to run his way back into points.
Most uncharacteristically, Federer, who carved his legend by rising in clutch moments, played poorly in some of the most critical parts of the match. Late in the second set he was down a service break when he broke back against Dimitrov to draw within 4-5 in games. His woes seemed to be fading, if only he could consolidate that break.
But he could not, even after going ahead by 30-0 in that game. Dimitrov won the next four points to close out the game and the set, thanks to three unforced errors by Federer.
It all seemed to confuse the fans because Federer looked brilliant for brief moments in the third set, with a pulsating combination of wicked crosscourt forehands and overhead slams, and he appeared to have regained control of the match. But in the first game of the fourth set, Dimitrov broke back.
Later in the fourth set, Federer had another break point against Dimitrov but could not convert it. During that game he rotated his right shoulder a bit while walking, raising an alarm that he might be hurt.
While Dimitrov sailed through most of his service games, Federer had to fight bitterly to hold his own serve. Late in the fourth set he staved off seven break points in an 8-deuce game, just to keep himself from falling behind by two service breaks.
Even though he lost the game, Dimitrov knew he had worn Federer down, perhaps beyond repair.
“I was actually smiling going to the changeover,” he said, “because I was like, ‘That game must have hurt him a lot.’”
It did, and Federer won only three games the rest of the way.
Now Dimitrov’s focus turns to Medvedev, who played through an upper leg injury in his victory over Wawrinka. Medvedev has spent many hours on court this summer, going 19-2 on hardcourts and reaching the finals in Washington, Montreal and the tournament in Mason, Ohio, which he won. (He also played two doubles matches in August, adding to his workload.)
For those able to look past the histrionics in his earlier matches, Medvedev is a captivating talent whose wide variety of shots can force players out of their comfort zones.
At age 23, on a bad leg, Medvedev overpowered and confused a three-time Grand Slam champion in Wawrinka.
“He’s playing a different ball,” Wawrinka said. “He’s really solid from baseline. Playing really flat backhand.”
Wawrinka said he knew that Medvedev would fight through the injury.
“I saw him play the last few matches and have been saying he has pain,” Wawrinka said. “And for sure he has pain. Some players like to show everybody they have pain. Some others hide it. I’m pretty sure all the players, 95 percent, we all have pain.”
Wawrinka noted that Medvedev had the talent to win the U.S. Open this year, but also said he doubted it would happen.
“Because he starts to look to be tired,” Wawrinka said.
But Medvedev will have an extra day of rest before the semifinals. And against Dimitrov, he might actually have some fans on his side. After all, he will be facing the villain who sent Roger Federer home.
Story by: David Waldstein
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