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Roger Federer upset at U.S. Open; no Rafael Nadal showdown

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NEW YORK — The U.S. Open was denied a Roger FedererRafael Nadal match yet again. Juan Martin del Potro wasn’t having any of it, just like in 2009.

The Argentine bounced Federer 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (8), 6-4 in the quarterfinals on Wednesday night, handing the Swiss his first loss in a Grand Slam since the 2016 Wimbledon semifinals.

It also meant that, for the sixth time, Federer and Nadal missed the first U.S. Open meeting of their storied rivalry by a single match.

Del Potro’s play under the Arthur Ashe Stadium roof brought back memories of 2009, when he routed Nadal in the semifinals and came back to overpower Federer in the final to win his first and (for now) only Grand Slam title before four wrist surgeries set back a promising career.

Federer had a pair of double faults on Del Potro’s first two break points, and the mistakes piled as midnight beckoned. Federer said that in two weeks in New York, he didn’t once play with the feeling of the Australian Open in January and Wimbledon in July, when he won his first Slams in five years to reach 19 for his career.

“If I ran into a good guy, I was going to lose, I felt,” he said. “I don’t want to say I was in negative mindset, but I knew going in that I’m not in a safe place. Might have depended too much on my opponent, and I don’t like that feeling. I had it, you know, throughout the tournament, and I just felt that way every single match I went into.”

Now, a tested and determined Del Potro gets Nadal in Friday’s semifinals. The rested Spaniard schooled Russian teen Andrey Rublev 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 in a 97-minute quarterfinal Wednesday afternoon.

“He will have a better chance to beat Rafa, to be honest,” Federer said. “The way I played or playing right now, it’s not good enough in my opinion to win this tournament.”

In the women’s bracket, it’s an all-American final four at a Slam for the first time since 1985 Wimbledon and the first time at the U.S. Open since 1981.

Venus Williams will play Sloane Stephens in one Thursday semi, while Madison Keys gets CoCo Vandweghe in the other.

But the anticipation since the draw release two weeks ago was for a semi between Federer and Nadal, the icons having resurgent seasons.

In the middle of the Federer-Del Potro match, the cheapest StubHub men’s semis ticket price was $745, more than twice as much as a men’s final ticket and 10 times the cost of a women’s semis pass.

“I honestly was only thinking about tonight,” Federer said. “My head didn’t even wander during the match.”

Federer and Nadal have played 37 times (Nadal leads 23-14), including 12 at Grand Slams, but never at the U.S. Open (or the Olympics). They were also one match away from meeting in New York in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013.

“It’s something a little bit strange that we never played here, no?” Nadal said on ESPN, after his match and before Federer’s. “I think it will be much more special if that can happen in a final, but it’s not possible this year. We’re going to try to come back and make that happen.”

They’ve combined for 34 Grand Slam singles titles, but bagged none for nearly three years until Federer beat Nadal in the Australian Open final in January.

Nadal won his 10th French Open in June. Federer captured his eighth Wimbledon in July. They are fighting for the year-end No. 1 ranking, boosted in part by season-ending injuries to Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

“In some ways I’m actually happy I made the quarters, so I’m not disappointed, because it’s been a good run this year already,” Federer said. “It’s all a bonus at this stage.”

Nadal was pressed to wax poetic on his rivalry with Federer, or just about the Swiss himself, in a news conference after Wednesday’s mismatch.

“I don’t want to look like I gonna be his boyfriend, no?” Nadal joked.

The other semifinal pits two first-timers — South African Kevin Anderson and Spain’s Pablo Carreño Busta — who would be clear underdogs to Nadal or Del Potro in Sunday’s final.

Federer, a 36-year-old with five U.S. Open titles, was forced to five sets in his first two matches last week while fighting off a pre-event back injury. Federer swept his last two opponents before Del Potro but is tired.

“When I walked off the court, I was, like, finally, I can rest,” he said. “Because I’m tired. I put a lot into it. I was not sure I could play, to be honest, so I’m happy I get a rest now.”

Nadal, a 31-year-old with two U.S. Open titles, has dropped two sets in five matches, all against men ranked outside the top 50.

Now he gets Del Potro, a man ranked No. 28 but with the game of a top-10er. The big Argentine isn’t sure what he has left after overcoming illness to win a five-setter in the fourth round and coming from behind to take out Federer.

“Playing against Rafa in my favorite tournament, I will try to enjoy the atmosphere, the game, and I know if I play my best tennis, I could be a danger for him,” he said.

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Yuzuru Hanyu wins Autumn Classic despite shaky performance

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Yuzuru Hanyu won his third Autumn Classic International crown in Oakville, Ontario on Saturday, but it was a bumpy ride.

The two-time Olympic champion’s debut of his “Origin” free skate, inspired by Yevgeni Plushenko’s famous “Tribute to Njinsky” program, had many fine elements: opening quadruple loop and toe loop jumps, plus two triple axels in the program’s second half; a pair of superb closing spins with fittingly baroque positions; and promising step and choreography sequences that preserved Plushenko’s flair, while adding a touch more refinement and control.

But a face-forward fall on a quad salchow, followed by a popped quad toe, meant Hanyu’s 165.91 points put him second in the free skate to his 16-year-old training partner, Junhwan Cha of South Korea. His total score, including Friday’s short program, was 263.65 points, just under four points higher than Cha’s second-place total.

At this point in the season, many other skaters – not including Plushenko – would have shrugged  off the imperfections in the challenging program and been happy to put a few miles on the choreography. But the 23-year-old Hanyu’s perfectionism runs year-round.

“My first competition of the season is always this level, unfortunately,” he said, as translated from Japanese. “I wanted to skate my short and free without any regrets here, and I was not able to do that.”

Hanyu likely remembers this event last season, when a mistake-riddled free skate put him second to longtime rival Javier Fernandez of Spain. This time around, the Japanese superstar, who trains at Toronto’s Cricket Skating and Curling Club under Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson, was especially disappointed that his jump glitches meant he could not attempt a quad-triple axel sequence, a combination that might have been worth some 20 points.

“I was not strong enough to skate this program yet,” he said. “I feel fine, I am not injured. Another program, maybe (last season’s) ‘Seimei,’ I might have been able to do well, but not this program. I am just not ready.”

Just as he did after Friday’s short program, where a botched spin cost him several points, Hanyu vowed to work harder.

“This is where I am right now, and I need to practice more,” he said.

Hanyu has plenty of time: his first Grand Prix event is in Finland on November 2.

The skating world may best remember this event as the week Cha came into his own. The Korean teen, who landed a quad salchow in his short on Friday, hit a quad toe to start his free to “Romeo and Juliet” – just the second time he has landed the jump in competition. While his quad salchow was judge under rotated, he went on to land two triple-triple combinations and two triple axels, all done with style and maturity beyond his years. The program earned 169.22 points to win the day.

“Last season, I didn’t skate so well. I had some hip and back (injuries) and boot problems,” Cha, who also said he had recently had a growth spurt, said. “Now I feel much stronger, and I have been working hard.”

Asked if he had a skating idol – perhaps his training partner, Hanyu – Cha demurred.

“I don’t have just one idol,” he said. “I like many different skaters, for different reasons. I will like one skater for his jumps; another skater for his spins.”

MORE: Tennell upsets Medvedeva at Autumn Classic

Canada’s Roman Sadovsky, fourth after the short program, stepped up to win the bronze medal with 233.86 points after landing two quads, a salchow and toe, in his free skate.

Jason Brown may be disappointed in his fourth-place finish here, but it cannot have come as a big surprise: the 2015 U.S. champion has said that since moving to Toronto this spring to train under Orser and Wilson, he has been re-learning his jump technique. He called the move “a four-year project.”

“I cannot speak more highly of Brian, Tracy, Lee (Barkell) and Karen (Preston), the whole team at Cricket Club,” Brown, 23, said. “They have been really been patient with me and worked with me methodically. … We’re starting from the ground up. Each day I’m learning something new, each day they are helping me work through something, whether that me a mental thing, physically getting a jump,  or the pacing of a program.”

The debut of Brown’s free to a medley of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Old Friends” and “Hazy Days of Winter” was bittersweet: his blades sung during spins, step sequences and transitions, but the jumps weren’t there. An opening quad salchow was doubled; a triple axel, popped into a single. He earned 144.33 points to place fifth in the free and fourth overall with 233.23.

Wilson, though, said they are just getting started.

“Let’s face it, he is a brilliant skater and he’s gotten close to the top of the world,” Wilson said of Brown, who was fourth in the world in 2015. “It’s a fine line trying to find room for improvement, and so that’s what we are trying to do. We are throwing a lot at him. We’re going to pull back a little.”

“What he brings, though, cannot be ignored,” she added. “My husband can be in the rink and know nothing about skating, and be mesmerized by what Jason does. He could teach clinics for every step sequence and position details. He is integral to what the sport needs.”

MORE: Kaitlyn Weaver, Andrew Poje debut free dance tribute to Denis Ten

Kaitlyn Weaver, Andrew Poje debut free dance tribute to Denis Ten

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Sometimes, you have to follow your heart, even if it makes you sad.

That’s what Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje thought when they chose to perform their free dance to “SOS, d’un terrien en detresse” this season. The tender Kazakh ballad was used by their friend, Denis Ten, who trained alongside them in Hackensack, New Jersey for a time. Ten died on July 19 in his home city of Almaty, Kazakhstan, after being stabbed by robbers attempting to vandalize his car.

“He was our dear friend. We found this music when we went to Kazakhstan and (saw) him skate to it this summer,” Weaver said. “We couldn’t get it out of our heads.  We came home and built a program around a different version (by Los Angeles: The Voices).”

The debut of the sensitive, yearning program earned Weaver and Poje 120.74 points and the title here in Oakville.  Canada’s world bronze medalists gained six Level  4 elements, the most valuable in figure skating’s scoring system, and judges also awarded high scores for interpretation and performance.

“When the tragedy struck, we knew our mission in this program was to do it for Denis,” Weaver said. “It’s about a person who is in distress and has a guardian there to care for him, and in the end,  they both understand it’s (the guardian’s) time to go. It’s the tragic sweetness and acceptance of it we’re trying to feel and portray.”

Doesn’t repeatedly training a program with such tragic connections get draining?

“That was the hardest thing,” Poje said. “But all of the memories we have of Denis bring us such joy. We had great laughs, especially the year we trained together. It made us feel at peace with going out there. We know how much he has touched people around the world.”

“This is our medium, our form of expression,” Weaver said. “We felt we needed to use it to pay tribute. We are able to channel our feelings into art, and that’s our way to deal with the tragedy.”

The free dance was choreographed by Pasquale Camerlengo, who coached Weaver and Poje for several years at the Detroit Skating Club. Although Nikolai Morozov, who works in Hackensack, remains the couple’s primary coach, they also work with Camerlengo and Igor Shpilband in Novi, Michigan.

Morozov thinks this arrangement of high-powered ice dance honchos is a trio made in heaven.

“They love to work with Pasquale, and Igor is very excited to work with them,” he said. “We are just happy because to us, it is most important that they are getting better. I don’t think we have egos any more. We are just happy to work with great skaters. It’s been very easy.”

Autumn Classic was Weaver and Poje’s first and only fall competition this season. They next compete at the 2019 Canadian Figure Skating Championships. Tomorrow, they join rehearsals for the upcoming “Thank You Canada Tour” across the nation, along with Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir; Patrick Chan; Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford; Kaetlyn Osmond; and other figure skating stars. The couple will alternate performing their competitive rhythm dance, a romantic tango, with their free dance.

“Whatever the feeling is in the morning, short or free, is what we’ll do,” Poje said.

“We will definitely get both programs out there in front of the audiences,” Weaver added.

Two teams training at Gadbois Center in Montreal, Quebec under Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice LauzonAdrian Diaz and Olivia Smart of Spain, and Shiyue Wang and Xinyu Liu of China – placed second and third, respectively.

MORE: Tennell upsets Medvedeva at Autumn Classic