Three quick thoughts after Roger Federer’s rollicking 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 defeat of Gael Monfils, sustaining his hopes at the 2014 U.S. Open.
Federer overcomes lackluster start
The 20,000 or so fans who came to see Roger Federer on Thursday night got their share of liquid shotmaking and graceful play, but they got to see a side of Federer not often in evidence. They saw a player who was decidedly off -- palpably nervous, flatter than the court itself for much of the match, mis-hitting his shots in a way the stat sheet couldn’t reflect -- the antithesis of the Federer we expect. John McEnroe put it well: “This was not the level he expected of himself when he walked out on this court.” Yet, after Federer dropped the first two sets, the fans saw Federer adjust, recover, play through rough patches and score a riveting five-set win.
Monfils came close to a victory
Monfils, on one changeover, (not the one when he drank a Coke) sat on the ground and looked to be hugging himself as he stretched. It was understandable. For the first hour tonight, he took advantage of Federer’s nervous and flat play and took a 2-0 set lead. At 5-4 in the fourth set, Monfils had a pair of match points, and came within inches. Literally from here to here of winning the match.
Federer held on, broke Monfils and closed out the set. Monfils, we realized tonight, is an anagram for “losing flame” and Monfils lost his. By the time the fifth set started, the Fates had written the script. Monfils never dislodged those lost match points from his head on Thursday night. (And tragically, he may never.) For a player who turned in such a dazzling tournament, finally marrying his limitless talent with sound decision making and something resembling poise, he leaves on a note of deep disappointment. That’s a shame. That’s tennis.
Title now a real possibility for Federer
And now…the plot thickens. We have Saturday’s Final Four -- the men’s semifinals -- with the two leading contenders still in the draw. Novak Djokovic came to New York with little in the way of momentum, having looked decidedly mediocre and minimally engaged in the tune-ups. Now, he is the overwhelming favorite. He is likely to survive Kei Nishikori, who has played 10 sets in his last two matches.
But everything is breaking Federer’s way. He came to New York playing so well and with such confidence. He had an unobjectionable draw. He has the crowd. He took the scenic route, but reached his destination on Thursday night. Let’s see what he has against Marin Cilic Saturday. Let’s see if the narrative continues.