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Scream rises to top for Federer

Four-time champion shows rare emotion as he fights off Andreev in five sets at U.S. Open.

September 03, 2008|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

NEW YORK -- A long, stirring slog of a match that wore on through the Tuesday dinner hour came garnished with a most unusual soundtrack.

It featured the repeated, guttural yells of one Roger Federer, the Swiss maestro long given to silent dominance and dominant silence. It had Federer as a sort of mini-Connors impersonating a jackhammer and vibrating his body in a double fist pump after a pivotal break of service in a fifth set. And it had the reminder through Federer's primal screams that among all tennis majors, the U.S. Open most often strays from tennis toward something more akin to wrestling.

In the rowdy wrestling ring they call Arthur Ashe Stadium, it finally had Federer grinding through his newfound imperfections and his 60 unforced errors in a hairy fourth round, wriggling out of 3 hours 32 minutes with the excellent Russian Igor Andreev by 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.

Then, it had Federer, winner of the last four titles here, crediting the crowd with supplying "you know, that feeling of going crazy," and admitting that the joys of operating from No. 2 in the world can trump the cold business of No. 1. "Maybe for a while it was quite, always the same for me, go on the court, you win all the time, so maybe you don't take it for granted all that much anymore," he said.

You especially don't take it for granted in the tennis wrestling that carried a frantic Tuesday in Flushing Meadow.

A fine melee unfolded over in Louis Armstrong Stadium concurrent with Federer-Andreev, and it sent a Luxembourgian qualifier ranked No. 130, Gilles Muller, opposite Federer in the quarterfinals. Muller chased off two-time semifinalist and No. 5-ranked Nikolay Davydenko by 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (10) in 3 hours 7 minutes during which Muller warded off seven set points in the fourth set, Davydenko broke four rackets and the two staged a carnival of a fourth-set tiebreaker that Muller, 25, called "the most exciting tiebreaker that I've ever played in my entire life."

In the midday sun before even all of that, No. 3 Novak Djokovic grappled 3 hours 44 minutes with No. 15 Tommy Robredo, winning, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3, and citing injuries to seemingly most parts of his body, which Robredo found melodramatic, saying, "After every time he was asking for a trainer, he was running like hell and he was making the shot. . . . So did I trust him? No. No."

Given all that, it seemed out of step that the surging Elena Dementieva and No. 2-seeded Jelena Jankovic arranged a semifinal with breezy wins over Patty Schnyder (6-2, 6-3) and Sybille Bammer (6-1, 6-4), respectively. It seemed unfitting that No. 8 Andy Roddick would ride his swift revival into a juicy quarterfinal with Djokovic in a 6-2, 6-4, 6-1 nighttime ravaging of No. 11 Fernando Gonzalez.

And it seemed apt that Andreev, who didn't win, still took an elaborate, symphony conductor's bow on his way out, having treated the crowd to a rigid test of Federer's aplomb. At 25 and ranked 23rd after a whopping 26 tournaments this year, he relished "that we made a part of show for the people."

He made steep tension part of that show with his blasted serves and his baseline drives that lured Federer into repeated thickets, threatening the U.S. Open winning streak that did reach 31.

He even dredged out Federer's inner volleyer, present seven years ago but largely absent during Federer's 239-week reign at No. 1 as the baseline sufficed.

The world's No. 2 player came to net 84 times Tuesday, winning 58 of those points.

He yelled while at the net after his volley forced an Andreev miss to clinch a scary second-set tiebreaker at 7-5. He yelled while at the net after he hunted down an Andreev drop shot in the fifth set to flip a gorgeous lob into Andreev's backhand corner, then watched Andreev's backhand fly wide for a break and 2-0. And he yelled after his final serve-and-volley caused Andreev's last shot to sail and curl long.

"I was just really pleased with my fighting spirit," he said, a comment perfect for a wrestler.

--

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Today's featured matches

World rankings are in parentheses:

* Serena Williams (3) vs. Venus Williams (8), quarterfinal, night session, first match, Arthur Ashe Stadium, 4 p.m. PDT: Occasionally, it's important to repeat arguably the best story in American sports history: There was this family that lived in the tennis non-hotbed of Compton, had no tennis background and raised not one multi-Grand Slam champion but two. You're kidding, right?

* Rafael Nadal, Spain (1), vs. Mardy Fish (35), quarterfinal, night session, second match: In a strategy he'll take to Nadal, Fish rushed the net 69 times against Gael Monfils, winning 54 of the points. It was so retro that they should've played "Y.M.C.A." during every changeover.

* Andy Murray, Britain (6), vs. Juan Martin Del Potro, Argentina (17), quarterfinal, day session, third match: This appealing bout between two scalding players marks their first meeting since Rome in May, when Murray thought Del Potro aimed a ball at his head and asked for an apology, whereupon Del Potro insulted Murray's mother, whereupon Murray told Del Potro to watch his mouth as they sat in their chairs. This would be the always-welcome spiteful-prom-queen portion of the draw.

* Dinara Safina, Russia (7), vs. Flavia Pennetta, Italy (19), quarterfinal, day session, second match: On Monday, May 5, Safina began play in Berlin as an undistinguished No. 17 player, but beat three top-10 players that week, has gone 37-4 ever since, reached the French Open final and won three titles. That must've been some breakfast.

-- Chuck Culpepper

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