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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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U.S. men off to best French Open start in 24 years

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The last time U.S. men started this well at the French Open, Sebastian Korda wasn’t alive and his dad had yet to win a Grand Slam singles title.

Eight American men are into the second round at Roland Garros, the largest contingent in the last 64 since 1996. It could have been nine, had Sam Querrey served out the match in the third set against 13th seed Andrey Rublev of Russia (Rublev won in five).

Still, no nation will have a greater representation in the second round than the Stars and Stripes. Astonishing, given U.S. men went a collective 1-9 at the 2019 French Open.

Back in 1996, nine American men won first-round matches. That group included Pete SamprasAndre AgassiJim Courier and Michael Chang (in Sampras’ deepest run in Paris, to the semifinals).

Clay has long been kryptonite for this generation of Americans — the last U.S. man to make a Roland Garros quarterfinal was Agassi in 2003.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

This group includes veterans like Jack Sock, who swept countryman Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 on Monday. Sock, 28, was once ranked eighth in the world.

He then dropped out of the rankings entirely, missing time due to injury and going 10 months between tour-level match wins. He’s now at No. 310 and preparing to play No. 3 Dominic Thiem in the second round.

“A pretty horrific two years in a row,” Sock said. “I’m not opposed to silencing some haters after the last couple years I’ve gone through. I’ve read and seen enough of it, heard enough of it. I’m kind of ready to reestablish myself out there, let people know that I’m back,”

Then there’s 35-year-old John Isner, the big server who swept a French wild card in round one. Isner, the highest seeded U.S. man at No. 21, has posted some decent Roland Garros results, reaching the fourth round three times.

There are new faces, too. Taylor Fritz is seeded 27, aged 22 and in an open section of the draw to make his first Grand Slam fourth round.

On Monday, 20-year-old Korda became the youngest U.S. man to win a French Open main-draw match since an 18-year-old Andy Roddick beat Chang in 2001.

He is the son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda and brother of the world’s second- and 22nd-ranked female golfers (Nelly and Jessica), next faces Isner.

So far, Sebastian’s biggest feats have been winning the 2018 Australian Open junior title and, in his only golf tournament, beating both of his sisters when he was 11.

An American man is already guaranteed to make the third round — Korda faces Isner on Thursday.

“I grew up on the clay,” Korda said, “so I know how to play on it a little bit.”

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Novak Djokovic rolls at French Open; top women escape

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Novak Djokovic began what could be a march to his 18th Grand Slam title, sweeping Swede Mikael Ymer 6-0, 6-2, 6-3 in the French Open first round on Tuesday.

The top seed Djokovic lost just seven points in the first set. He gets Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis in the second round in a half of the draw that includes no other man with French Open semifinal experience.

Djokovic had plenty going for him into Roland Garros, seeking to repeat his 2016 run to the title. The chilly weather is similar to four years ago.

As is Djokovic’s form. His only loss in 2020 was when he was defaulted at the U.S. Open for hitting a ball in anger that struck a linesperson in the throat.

Djokovic got a break with the draw when No. 3 seed Dominic Thiem was put in No. 2 Rafael Nadal‘s half. The Serbian also won his clay-court tune-up event in Rome, where he received warnings in back-to-back matches for breaking a racket and uttering an obscenity.

“I don’t think that [the linesperson incident] will have any significant negative impact on how I feel on the tennis court,” Djokovic said before Roland Garros. “I mean, I won the tournament in Rome just a week later after what happened in New York.

“I really want to be my best version as a player, as a human being on the court, and win a tennis match. Because of the care that I have for that, I sometimes express my emotions in good way or maybe less good way.”

If Djokovic can lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires two Sundays from now, he will move within two of Roger Federer‘s career Slams record. Also notable: He would keep Nadal from tying Federer’s record and head into the Australian Open in January, his signature Slam, with a chance to match Nadal at 19.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Earlier Tuesday, No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and No. 4 Sofia Kenin each needed three sets to reach the second round.

The Czech Pliskova rallied past Egyptian qualifier Mayar Sherif 6-7 (9), 6-2, 6-4. Pliskova, the highest-ranked player without a major title, next gets 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia.

“Let’s not talk about my level [of play],” Pliskova said. “I think there is big room for improvement.”

Kenin, the American who won the Australian Open in February, outlasted Russian Liudmila Samsonova 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

“It doesn’t matter how you win — ugly, pretty, doesn’t matter,” Kenin said on Tennis Channel.

She gets Romanian Ana Bogdan in the second round. Only one other seed — No. 14 Elena Rybakina — is left in Kenin’s section en route to a possible quarterfinal.

American Jen Brady, who made a breakthrough run to the U.S. Open semifinals, was beaten by Danish qualifier Clara Tauson  6-4, 3-6, 9-7.

Sam Querrey nearly made it eight American men into the second round, serving for the match in the third set. But he succumbed to 13th-seeded Russian Andrey Rublev 6-7 (5), 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-4, 6-3. It’s still the best first-round showing for U.S. men since nine advanced in 1996.

The second round begins Wednesday, highlighted by Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal.

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