NEW YORK — Roger Federer moved as if the tennis court were an unfamiliar place, a place where he needed guidance, where he needed advice on how to hit a forehand or when to unleash that one-handed backhand that had earned him five U.S. Open championships and 17 Grand Slam titles, more than any other man in history.
Much of the tennis world was eagerly anticipating that for the first time, Federer and Rafael Nadal would conduct their rivalry at the U.S. Open.
Instead, 31-year-old Spaniard Tommy Robredo, who had only won three of 27 sets and never a match from Federer, stands as a U.S. Open men’s quarterfinalist.
The seventh-seeded Federer lost to 19th-seeded Robredo, 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-4, in the fourth round Monday night, short-circuiting what would have been the first Federer-Nadal meeting in this tournament. They’ve played each other 31 times at other events.
Nadal did his part, overcoming a shaky start to eliminate 22nd-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-3, 6-1.
But Federer, 32, failed to reach the quarterfinals at a second consecutive Grand Slam. He lost in the second round at Wimbledon — a defeat that ended a streak of 36 consecutive majors in which he’d advanced to the quarterfinals or beyond, a record in men’s tennis.
“To be honest, it was going to be great if we were able to play that match,” Nadal said about meeting Federer here. “I felt our rivalry, for so many years we were able to play in all the best scenarios around the world.
“So probably that deserves to have a match here in the U.S. Open, the biggest court in the world. But it didn’t happen. That doesn’t mean it cannot happen in the future. We’ll see. Hopefully. But it is true we are getting older, so the chances are less today than five years ago.”
The other men who advanced to the quarterfinals on this rainy day were fourth-seeded Spaniard David Ferrer, who outlasted 18th-seeded Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia, 7-6 (2), 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (3), and eighth-seeded Richard Gasquet of France, who knocked out 10th-seeded Canadian Milos Raonic, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4) 2-6, 7-6 (9), 7-5, in 4 hours 40 minutes.
As Federer took off his headband at the net, he managed to shake hands and give Robredo a tiny smile, as the crowd at Louis Armstrong Stadium gave Federer a standing ovation. He could barely manage a small wave to the fans at Armstrong Stadium, a smaller, noisier venue than Arthur Ashe Stadium, where the match was originally scheduled before rain scrambled the schedule.
Federer, who reached the semifinals at the Australian Open and the quarterfinals at the French Open, made his earliest exit at the U.S. Open since a fourth-round defeat in 2003. This year is the first since 2002 in which he has failed to reach at least one Grand Slam final.
“I thought it was going to be a great atmosphere that I could take advantage of,” Federer said. “I was prepared for it, even happy about it. But unfortunately I didn’t show the game that the fans could really get into and excited about.”
Such is the respect accorded to the Swiss veteran that he wasn’t pushed to speak about retiring.
“I feel like I beat myself,” he said. “Without taking any credit away from Tommy. Clearly he was making many balls. It was up to me to make the difference and I couldn’t.”
Robredo had been 0-10 against Federer before Monday.
“It’s amazing,” he said of the win. “For me, Roger is the best player of all times. To beat him in a . . . Grand Slam, it’s like a dream. I am in the quarterfinals. It’s a great day.”
Federer won only two of 16 break points while Robredo took four of seven. Federer had 43 unforced errors to 26 from Robredo.
Alison Riske, a 23-year-old wild-card entrant from Pittsburgh ranked 81st in the world, had her run ended in the fourth round by former top-10 player Daniela Hantuchova, who prevailed, 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, in a match interrupted by rain.
In the quarterfinals Hantuchova, 30, will play either second-seeded Victoria Azarenka or 13th-seeded Ana Ivanovic. Their match was postponed until Tuesday.
“I wasn’t nervous,” Riske said. “But my body acted nervous. I was really tight. I think I played really well going into today and expected that. It didn’t start out that way.”
Roberta Vinci, seeded 10th, beat fellow Italian Camila Giorgi, 6-4, 6-2, in 67 minutes. Giorgi had upset sixth-seeded Caroline Wozniacki, a former U.S. Open finalist.
At least one Italian woman has reached the quarterfinals here for six consecutive years. This year there are two — Vinci and unseeded Flavia Pennetta, who upset 21st-seeded Simona Halep, 6-2, 7-6 (3).
Vinci, 30, and Pennetta, 31, will play each other in the quarters.
“I know I’m not that young,” Vinci said, “but I still enjoy the play. I try to stay focused every single day.”