Tuesday 17 September 2019

Federer bemoans injury as Nadal face-off scuppered

Grigor Dimitrov hits a return during his victory against Roger Federer at Flushing Meadows
Grigor Dimitrov hits a return during his victory against Roger Federer at Flushing Meadows

Simon Briggs

For the second major in a row, Roger Federer suffered a defeat that was painfully hard to swallow. Having seen two match points go by against Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final, Federer suffered a back spasm shortly before his five-set loss to Grigor Dimitrov on Tuesday night.

Federer was able to play through the pain and stiffness, and might even have won had he not encountered a superbly focused Dimitrov. But in view of the tightness of the margins - Dimitrov won 51 per cent of the points in his 3-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory - it is hard not to feel that this minor but disastrously-timed injury made the difference.

Just to add to Federer's irritation, he has clearly suffered this problem before, and knew it would probably clear up with a little rest. Given the two-day break before the men's semi-finals - and the fact that Djokovic had already gone out of the tournament with a shoulder problem - here was a rare opportunity to land a first US Open title since 2008.

"I have a good idea what the injury is," Federer told the Swiss journalist Simon Graf on Tuesday. "It's something that will bother me today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. Then it will be OK. That makes it even more disappointing that I didn't find a way."

Soaring

It was a disappointing result for New York's tennis-lovers too. Tickets for the final were soaring in price, based on the theory that Federer would end up playing Rafael Nadal for the first time at this tournament. According to the events site TicketiQ, the cheapest seat stood at $351 (€318) on Saturday but had climbed to $479 (€434) by Tuesday, after Djokovic's unexpected exit cleared Federer's path.

But the "Big Three" are not invincible, despite their shared sequence of 11 straight majors.

By overcoming Federer in a match few thought he could win, Dimitrov followed in the footsteps of John Millman here last year, and Tommy Robredo in 2013.

What a boost this tournament has been for Dimitrov, a player who used to be known as "Baby Fed" - because his game bears a close resemblance to that of Federer. For a man who has been ranked as high as No 3 in the world, he has endured a miserable season, with a run of eight defeats from nine matches.

Dimitrov has been working with a pair of illustrious coaches in Andre Agassi and Radek Stepanek, but neither has been here this fortnight, and he started his campaign out on the boondocks of Court 11, grinding out a four-set victory over veteran Italian Andreas Seppi.

Then, due to face 12th seed Borna Coric in a second-round match that might have proved too much for him, Dimitrov received a walkover when Coric pulled out with a bad back. "You just never know when a little bit of luck smiles at you," he said, earlier in the tournament.

And so Dimitrov is into his third major semi-final, having lost to Djokovic and Nadal in the previous two. His opponent tomorrow will be 23-year-old Russian Daniil Medvedev, who will need all of his two rest days after straining a quad muscle during his earlier win over Stan Wawrinka.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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