Roger Federer will not win a 21st Grand Slam event singles title this year.
Hampered by tightness that developed in his upper back and neck Tuesday afternoon, a noticeably slow Federer was stunned by world No. 78 Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria in the U.S. Open quarterfinals, fading as Dimitrov pulled off a 3-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory. Federer committed a staggering 61 unforced errors against Dimitrov, who will face Daniil Medvedev of Russia in the semifinals.
Dimitrov, 28, was known as “Baby Federer” early in his career because he also deploys a one-handed backhand. On Tuesday, he was himself, not a miniature Federer, though he still admires the Swiss master. “He’s a great player, plays amazing, does amazing shots, serve, everything,” Dimitrov said. “There’s not enough words to describe him clearly.”
Federer, 38, wasn’t near that level Tuesday. He took a medical timeout after the fourth set and left the court to get treatment, but it didn’t seem to help. “Just needed to try to loosen it up, crack it and see if it was going to be better,” he said. “Yeah, but this is Grigor’s moment and not my body’s moment, so, it’s OK.”
Two of his last good moments came in the fourth set. In the seventh game, serving at 2-4, he saved seven break points and cut Dimitrov’s lead to 4-3. Dimitrov held for 5-3 and Federer held for 5-4, but in the 10th game Federer failed to convert two break points and Dimitrov served out the game and the set. “Even when I lost that game, I was actually smiling going through the changeover because I was [thinking] that game must have hurt him a lot,” Dimitrov said of that seventh game. “For me, it actually filled me up. I tried to use that negative sort of situation into my positive.”
Dimitrov could see Federer was flagging and tried to capitalize on that by moving him around. “I think in the first game of the fifth, I put so many returns back, pretty much all the returns, so he had to go,” Dimitrov said. “He wanted to keep the points really short. I used every single opportunity I had.”
Federer admired that. “Grigor was able to put me away. I fought with what I had. That’s it,” Federer said after losing to him for the first time in eight meetings. “He was tough off the baseline. He mixed up well, which gave me all sorts of problems with the rhythm. Could never really feel comfortable off the baseline.
“That’s something in the past I’ve always been able to dominate, I’d say. That was not the case tonight. He did a good job there.”
Federer lost the first set in each of his first two matches here but said he felt fine until Tuesday. “Just disappointed it’s over because I did feel like I was actually playing really well after a couple of rocky starts,” he said. “It’s just a missed opportunity to some extent that you’re in the lead, you can get through, you have two days off after. It was looking good. But got to take the losses. They’re part of the game.”
In the other men’s quarterfinal Tuesday, Medvedev’s body was being held together by medical tape and hope, and there were times it seemed both would fail and he’d unravel on the court.
The 23-year-old Russian said he considered retiring against Stan Wawrinka after he injured a quadriceps muscle early in the first set but changed his plan when he realized he could keep Wawrinka off-balance and keep the match close. “I felt the way I won was quite ugly, because that’s what I had to do,” Medvedev said after he improvised his way through a 7-6 (6), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 victory that extended his winning streak to 11 straight matches.
“First two sets, I didn’t have any emotions because in my mind, I’m losing the match because of my leg. I’m either going to retire or come back to the locker room in one hour as the loser of the match. Then when it was like 5-3 in the second, I was like, ‘OK, now I’m starting to get stressed because I’m close to being 2-0 up in the sets.’ I’m definitely not going to retire when it’s 2-0 up for me.”
Wawrinka gave him pause but didn’t push him in the fourth set. “I really feel strange about this match, but I am happy to say I am in my first major semifinal,” Medvedev said.
Strange doesn’t begin to describe his match against Wawrinka. Medvedev double-faulted nine times in winning the first set and drew some cheers from a crowd that had been booing him after he had snatched a towel away from a ballperson and gave fans the finger earlier in the tournament. When they jeered, he told them their hatred was giving him energy to win.
But he was on his best behavior Tuesday and he was inventive in changing things up until the painkiller kicked in and he could move more freely. He went to the net. He hit drop shots. He steadied his serve, committing only three double faults in the last three sets.
“His game is like his personality. Very different. I said already once it’s like to coach a genius. Sometimes a genius, you don’t understand them,” said his coach, Frenchman Gilles Cervara. “It’s like this. They are different. And you have to connect to this guy like he is. I think we do it quite good.”