When Roger Federer is playing like he was playing Wednesday night at Arthur Ashe Stadium at the U.S. Open, it isn’t tennis. It’s a demolition derby.
Every time you see him play an especially impressive match, you think he can’t get any better than that. Then he does.
He beat poor Richard Gasquet, 6-3, 6-3, 6-1, and you wanted to go find the Frenchman, throw your arm around his shoulder and tell him it was OK. It wasn’t him. It was Roger Federer.
The last set went so quickly, 23 minutes in a lightning fast 1:27 match, that the packed house of 23,771 never really got into a rhythm of watching, much like Gasquet never really got into a rhythm of playing.
He tried to slow Federer down, to go to the towel a lot, to walk slowly between points. He knows Federer likes to do his dismantling at warp speed. But nothing worked, and before long Gasquet looked like a pedestrian who’d been knocked by a car into the path of a truck.
This is not some schlump out of the qualifying tournament, or some second cousin of a tournament official who got in with a wild card. This was the No. 12-seeded player, once No. 7 in the world, a guy with arguably the best one-handed backhand in the game. This was a player who earned his way into the quarterfinals of this major tournament by sending away sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych in the previous round in four sets.
In tennis, he is France’s Brillant Backhand, just as Steffi Graf was Germany’s Fraulein Forehand. In this match, in this giant U.S. stadium, he was Ground-Beef Gasquet.
Federer hit 16 aces. Gasquet hit one.
Federer hit 50 winners. Gasquet hit eight.
Federer forced 13 break points and converted five. Gasquet converted zero of zero.
Federer won the point on his first serve 87% of the time.
They moved this match up an hour because of a forecast for rain coming in. Wouldn’t have mattered. Federer could have finished this one in an hour.
The biggest winner of the evening may have been the Swiss banks.
Federer will play his Swiss Davis Cup partner, Stan Wawrinka, in the semifinals. A semifinalist here gets $850,000, a finalist $1.7 million. That means that the least amount of U.S. cash heading to Switzerland after this tournament will be $2.55 million. The winner gets $3.3 million.
On the Louis Armstrong court, put there after being scheduled on Arthur Ashe but moved because of the fear of rain, was Wawrinka. Tournament officials had the choice of moving Federer or Wawrinka, and, somehow, made the decision that Federer would be the bigger draw. These U.S. Tennis Assn. people weren’t born yesterday.
Wawrinka, a great player in his own right — with two major titles that include this year’s French Open — remains the Swiss second fiddle. He beat Kevin Anderson, the conqueror of Andy Murray in the last round, and it was almost as quick and as big a rout as Federer over Gasquet.
Wawrinka’s 6-4, 6-4, 6-0 win over the South African took 1 hour 47 minutes.
“It was the best match of the tournament for me,” said Wawrinka, who beat Federer this year on clay at the French.
Still, Federer remains the gold standard in Swiss tennis, maybe in men’s tennis. It remains difficult to imagine that he can do what he did to Gasquet consistently. It’s less difficult after Wednesday night.
He hasn’t won a major title since the 2012 Wimbledon, which was his record 17th Grand Slam title. He has been close. He lost the last two Wimbledon finals to Novak Djokovic. Inexplicably, both he and Djokovic lost in last year’s semifinals here.
He has won this title five times. Like he is everywhere else, even at Wimbledon and even when he plays Murray there, he is beloved. If you didn’t know better Wednesday night and you just stopped by for a quick look and listen, you’d quickly conclude that Federer must have been born and raised in the Bronx. They always root for the U.S. players here, but they never stop loving Federer.
Perhaps his most devastating loss here in a final was his failure to beat Juan Martin Del Potro after having a solid lead in the 2009 final.
He had a back injury that plagued him in 2013. Then he changed to a bigger racket, went back to the smaller one for a while and finally stayed with the bigger racket. That, if nothing else, seems to have extended the continually amazing career of this 34-year-old.
He apparently doesn’t have birthday parties. He just gets visits from Ponce de Leon.
“It’s all about keeping yourself in shape and staying injury free,” he said. “And motivated, I guess.”
He also said that getting enough sleep is crucial. This, from a guy who has four kids, two sets of twins.
Asked specifically how much sleep he needs or gets, he said, “Nine, 10 hours a night.”
That would put the nanny and wife Mirka in line for best supporting awards in the Federer family movie.
Then, of course, there is poor Gasquet. It’s hard to imagine him getting 10 hours of sleep Wednesday night. He won’t be counting sheep. He’ll be seeing serves ticking lines and shots whizzing past left and right.
There’s no denying it. Playing Roger Federer these days can be a nightmare.