NEW YORK - In a virtuoso display of power tennis, Tomas Berdych shocked top-ranked Roger Federer 7-6 (1), 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open on Wednesday night. Remarkably, for the first time since the 2004 French Open, a Grand Slam event will have neither Federer nor Rafael Nadal in the semifinals.
In actuality, Berdych's victory was even more decisive than the score line indicates. He was up a break and serving at 3-2 in the third set, seemingly cruising. But he got tight, serving two double faults in the game to let Federer back into the match.
Once Federer claimed that third set, it appeared that momentum would be on his side. And when Berdych went down 0-30 serving at 2-2 in the fourth set, the inevitability of another Federer comeback took hold. Consider that Federer had already come from two sets down twice this year in the Slams, and over the last four years he has mastered the art of the great escape.
But Berdych stayed tough and played four superb points, never looking back after that. After Berdych broke Federer to take a 5-3 lead, it was clear that the lack of a changeover timeout was what Berdych needed - he didn't have to think about what he was about to accomplish. He proceeded to notch three service winners in claiming the final game at love.
The stat that many may seize on is the high number of unforced errors from Federer, especially on his usually potent and reliable forehand. Indeed, Federer did seem to flail at the ball at times, uncharacteristically sending balls far wide or long. I'm sure some will cite the extra days off Federer had since Mardy Fish had to withdraw from their scheduled fourth-round match Monday.
But Federer's error-prone game under the lights was almost entirely due to the unrelenting and intimidating missiles Berdych shot in his direction. It was distinctly reminiscent of the 2009 U.S. Open final, when Juan Martin del Potro overpowered Federer from the backcourt and left him reeling.
Another impressive aspect of Berdych's victory was the strategy he employed. Instead of utilizing the tried and true tactic of hitting high balls to Federer's backhand, the system Nadal has used so effectively in his rivalry with Federer, Berdych went after the forehand. It was strength vs. strength, and Berdych clearly had more firepower on this night. It was an unprecedented approach against the most prolific Grand Slam winner in history. And it worked brilliantly.
The victory itself should really not be considered a shock. After all, Berdych beat Federer in the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 2010 and then advanced to the final, where he was defeated by Nadal. For years now, so many have predicted that Berdych would be in the mix to win a Slam or two. There's no doubt he's playing the best tennis of his career at the moment.
Next up for Berdych in the semifinals is Andy Murray. The Olympic gold medalist survived a strange match against underachieving 12th seed Marin Cilic. Having lost the first set and down 5-2 in the second, Murray stormed back and dominated the match, taking the last three sets 7-6, 6-2, 6-0. It was a deeply disappointing finish for Cilic, who, while blessed with an unusually fluid game for a man who stands 6 feet, 6 inches, is prone to mental lapses that continue to rob him of stronger results in the majors.
The rain-delayed fourth-round matches were also completed. Eighth-seeded Janko Tipsarevic fulfilled his seeding by easily beating Philipp Kohlschreiber in straight sets. Tipsarevic will take on fourth seed David Ferrer in the quarterfinals Thursday.
Novak Djokovic, who is now the consensus favorite to claim the championship, had little difficulty in dispatching Stan Wawrinka to secure his spot in the final eight.
And, last but most definitely not least in terms of tangible impact, del Potro ended the career of Andy Roddick, defeating the now-retired American 6-7 (1), 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-4.
For a while, especially after Roddick took the first set, it seemed that he could pull off a big upset and entice the partisans with an intriguing quarterfinal match against Djokovic. But del Potro played a consistent and focused match, never letting the crowd take over in beating the 2003 U.S. Open champion. The Djokovic-del Potro quarterfinal Thursday evening looks to be a blockbuster, as both are playing superbly during this fortnight.
Most indicative of Roddick's correct decision to retire at this stage of his career was the sight of his serve. Though Roddick was blessed with a powerful forehand early in his career, the shot mysteriously ceased being a weapon years ago, leaving Roddick's blazing serve as his only true strength.
But Roddick couldn't get any rhythm going on his serve and threw in an uncharacteristic number of double faults as he was obviously pressing. What once was the most dominant serve in the sport looked weak.
Roddick had the unenviable position of following legends Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi in the role of Best American Player. Though many think he underachieved since his one and only Slam came nine years ago when he was 21, it's undeniable that Roddick was a great player in tennis' golden age. Just look at the facts: one Grand Slam title, five Slam finals, 10 consecutive years ranked in the Top 10 and a sterling Davis Cup record. And he'll likely be enshrined in the International Tennis Hall of Fame in five years.
Yet the image I can't shake is one that occurred during Roddick's greatest heartbreak - but was also, in a sense, his most triumphant moment. It came in the match through which he gained legions of fans due to his extraordinary effort, the 2009 Wimbledon final against Federer. In the best match Roddick has ever played, he blew four set points and failed to take a two-sets-to-none lead. Yet he came back and barely lost, falling 16-14 in the fifth. It's hard not to think of what he might have been thinking: If only I had come along in a different era.