NEW YORK — Roger Federer served poorly. Closed poorly, too. And now he’s gone, beaten at the US Open by an opponent ranked outside the top 50 for the first time in his career.
Looking slow and tired on a sweltering night in Arthur Ashe Stadium, Federer double-faulted 10 times, failed to convert a trio of set points and lost 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (3) in the fourth round to John Millman in a match that began Monday and concluded at nearly 1 a.m. on Tuesday.
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It’s only the second time in Federer’s past 14 appearances at the US Open that he has lost before the quarterfinals. He is, after all, a five-time champion at the tournament, part of his men’s-record haul of 20 Grand Slam titles.
“I have so much respect for Roger and everything he’s done for the game. He’s been a hero of mine, and today he was definitely not at his best,” Millman said, “but, you know, I’ll take it.”
So much for that much-anticipated matchup between Federer and 13-time major champion Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals. Instead, it’ll be the 55th-ranked Millman, who had never made it past the third round at a Slam until last week, taking on No. 6 seed Djokovic.
Millman was adamant he would not be intimidated by Federer, and perhaps was helped by having spent time practicing together a few months ago ahead of the grass-court portion of this season.
Still, this was a stunner. Not simply because Federer lost — he entered the day 28-0 at the US Open, and 127-1 in all Grand Slam matches, against foes below No. 50 in the ATP rankings — but how he lost. Start with this: Federer held two set points while serving for the second at 5-4, 40-15 and did not pull through. Millman knew that was the turning point.
“I felt like a bit of a deer in headlights to begin with, to be honest with you. The feet weren’t moving. Roger had me on a string. He was manipulating me around the court,” Millman said. “But I got out of a tough second set and really found my feet and started to be a little bit more aggressive.”
Then Federer had a set point in the third at 6-5 in the tiebreaker, but again was stymied.
In the fourth set, he went up a break at 4-2, yelling “Come on!” and getting all of those rowdy spectators in their “RF” gear on their feet, prompting the chair umpire to repeatedly plead for silence. But Federer uncharacteristically was broken right back with a sloppy game, most egregiously when he slapped what should have been an easy putaway into the net.
And then there was his serve.
In the final tiebreaker, he double-faulted twice in a row.
The first obvious signs of trouble for Federer came far earlier, in the second game of the second set. He started that 15-minute struggle by missing 18 of his initial 20 first serves. While he eventually held there, he needed to save seven break points along the way. It was clear the 37-year-old Federer was not at his best.
Maybe the 75 percent humidity played a role. Millman’s big rips on groundstrokes didn’t help matters. As the unforced errors mounted — Federer would finish with 77, nearly three times as many as Millman’s 28 — Federer’s wife, Mirka, couldn’t bear to look, placing her forehead on her hands in the guest box in the stands.
Federer hung his head at a changeover, a little black fan pointed right at his face, but nothing seemed to make him feel like himself.
Hours before, Djokovic left the court for a medical timeout — the second time during the tournament he’s sought help from a doctor because of harsh weather — during what would become an otherwise straightforward 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 victory over 68th-ranked Joao Sousa of Portugal.
“I’m not 21 anymore. That was 10 years ago. I still don’t feel old. But at the same time, there is a little biological clock that is not really working in your favor,” Djokovic told the crowd afterward. “Sometimes, you just have to survive.”
He reached the quarterfinals for an 11th consecutive appearance in New York as he bids for a third US Open championship and 14th Grand Slam trophy.
Asked whether he thought during that time away about returning to the height of his powers, Djokovic replied: “I have imagined. I have hoped for. I have prayed for that.”
He improved to 28-0 at the US Open against opponents ranked outside the top 50, and here’s another reason it wasn’t all that surprising the way things went against Sousa: Djokovic is now 5-0 in their head-to-head series, taking all 14 sets they’ve played against each other.
The heat, though, is much tougher on Djokovic, who showed the same blank expression, rosy cheeks and sweat-soaked shirt as during his first-round match last week. That was the first time in tournament history that the US Open created an extreme heat policy for men’s matches — players can opt for a 10-minute break between the third and fourth sets — similar to what’s standard on the women’s tour, in which there can be a delay between the second and third sets.
“It’s not easy,” Djokovic said, “to play in these kind of conditions.”
Cilic, who beat Nishikori four years ago for his only major title, was a 7-6 (6), 6-2, 6-4 winner against No. 10 David Goffin, while Nishikori advanced by defeating Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-3, 6-2, 7-5.
“He pushed me around,” Kohlschreiber said after Nishikori reached the final eight for a second straight Grand Slam tournament.
Both Nishikori and Djokovic missed last year’s US Open with arm injuries.
“I don’t have any pressure,” said Nishikori, who was so crushed about missing the US Open last year that he couldn’t even watch the tournament. “But [I’m] enjoying playing every match and enjoying playing tennis again a little more than before.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.