There’s something about Tomas Berdych that makes Roger Federer uncomfortable, losing to the Czech player for the fourth time out of their last seven meetings, finding himself out of the US Open, for the first time in nine years, before the semifinal stage.
What went wrong? Well, everything, but it seems the biggest part of Federer’s downfall in yet another US Open was the fact that Mardy Fish withdrew from their match, giving Federer four days of rest between Fernando Verdasco in the third round and Berdych in the quarterfinals. The player that entered this tournament in the best form, winning the Masters in Cincinnati because he rested during the Canadian Masters just didn’t get back to his rhythm, and when he did, it was too late.
Out of his 40(!!!) unforced errors, Federer made 21 with his forehand, which was all over the place. Berdych bombed him with 14 aces and most importantly, never let the world’s number one get too comfortable. Federer had his moments in the third set and was close, seemingly, to breaking Berdych physically and mentally after the big man took a tumble on the hard surface. He took his took getting back to the game, pressing a cold bottle of water against his hurt hand.
Federer didn’t garner up enough momentum, or maybe Berdych had it all figured it out. He broke Federer once again and simply didn’t let the Swiss maestro breath between booming serves. It was all that Federer could have done on a bad day like this, losing 7-6 (1), 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. With his forehand being as wild and unpredictable as it was, there was no way he was beating Berdych on such a fine serving performance, especially when his own serve wasn’t as effective and accurate as the usual.
Once again, every time Federer shows us how perfect he can be for a stretch of a couple of months comes the realization that this isn’t Roger Federer of 2004-2007. Rafael Nadal isn’t around; Andy Murray is struggling (but still making it with a remarkable comeback against Cilic) and Novak Djokovic has played better tennis, although he has played better tennis in his career. Federer was well rested before the tournament, which was his for the taking, for the first time since 2008.
No record sixth title in Queens, simply because the bad days aren’t so far and few as they were in the past. Even after Wimbledon and three more Masters titles this season, the clear edge he used to have over the entire tour isn’t there anymore day in and day out. When he’s at his best, yes, there’s still no one like him or close to him. But that best needs special conditions to come out, and a rusty Federer couldn’t produce the tennis we’ve seen from him for a big part of this year against a player he constantly struggles against.
What’s next? Finishing the season on a high. Two Masters left – Shanghai and Paris. Federer has never won in China and is the defending champion in Paris. Whoever wins the title in Flushing Meadows, probably Djokovic or Murray, they’ll be the favorites heading into the final stretch of the season, with London, a favorite event of Roger’s, looming round the bend. But maybe that’s what’s best for him – always needing to prove to others (not to himself) that he still has what it takes to be a dominant world number one.