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Open absorbs a drop shot

Federer beats Djokovic, and rain, to reach final, but Nadal-Murray semifinal is suspended.

September 07, 2008|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

NEW YORK -- The U.S. Open usually tests elite tennis players with clamor, chaos, humidity, wee-hours finishes and chronic spectator rudeness, but it's clearly over the top to toss in a tropical storm.

Hanna's arrival Saturday at 2:40 p.m. EDT not only disfigured the closing-weekend schedule but did so enough to stir questions of whether the men's singles outcome will qualify as fair.

After Roger Federer finished his masterful 6-3, 5-7, 7-5, 6-2 semifinal win over No. 3 Novak Djokovic in Arthur Ashe Stadium at 1:55 p.m. on Saturday, he said he hoped Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray could finish their concurrent semifinal in Louis Armstrong Stadium "so we can have a fair final on Sunday."

They won't have a Sunday final, and it's debatable whether the final they'll have Monday will be fair, because Nadal and Murray must resume their unfinished semifinal today at 1 p.m. PDT, with Murray leading, 6-2, 7-6 (5), 2-3, but Nadal up a service break in the third set.

The weary winner will play a less-weary Federer on Monday at 2 p.m. PDT, and the washed-out Saturday night women's final between Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic will go on tonight at 6 PDT.

While Arlen Kantarian, professional tennis chief executive of the United States Tennis Assn., found a "silver lining" in the women's rescheduling because a Sunday night TV audience usually beats a Saturday night, the men's situation featured only clouds.

Eyeballing Hanna and consulting meteorologists, USTA officials believed on Friday night that the rain would not come until 5 p.m. EDT, and they designated Nadal-Murray to follow Federer-Djokovic and to begin "not before 12 o'clock."

By Saturday morning, "The window that presented itself eventually started to shrink," USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier said, and by noon, with Federer and Djokovic already an hour into their high-quality tussle and Hanna due at 3, officials moved Nadal-Murray from 23,000-seat Ashe Stadium to 10,000-seat Louis Armstrong Stadium for a 12:40 start.

Asked repeatedly why they did not start Nadal-Murray at 11, officials noted an array of factors including the 23,000 fans who bought tickets for a doubleheader and the wishes of CBS, but Kantarian finally did say, "In hindsight, that would have been the right call, but if every decision was based on pending rain . . ."

Nadal and Murray began in a surreal setting, playing a semifinal in front of seats mostly empty before fans began to flood in and Murray, a Scot playing his first Grand Slam semifinal at 21, began to demonstrate his intent to cause serious commotion within the top five, which he'll join at No. 4 next week.

He served so commandingly that No. 1 Nadal, the French Open, Wimbledon and Olympic champion, found zero break-point chances in the first two sets. And when Murray missed first serves in the business part of the second-set tiebreaker, Nadal muffed two second-serve returns, hitting one so flimsily that Murray mauled it, and the other into the net as a 5-4 lead became a 7-5 loss.

Just as it seemed Nadal really had grown drained from his bruising summer, the global capital of effort quickly broke Murray in the first game of the third set before Hanna butted in. USTA officials said that neither player lamented the 4 p.m. local start for today, and that the lateness of that start owes to CBS' NFL schedule.

By the time Nadal and Murray resume, Federer will have rested 26 hours since hitting one last forehand blast past Djokovic, and might still be aglow after a semifinal in which he felt "in control of how the points were constructed."

Still No. 2 after the kind of subpar year any other player would love to have, Federer put up daydream statistics such as 13 winners to three unforced errors in the first set, a fourth-set unforced-error total of one and a first-set serve percentage of 83%.

At 6-5 in the third set, he thrilled fans who have come to adore him by retrieving a Djokovic overhead eight feet behind the baseline and propelling an overhead lob that curled ingeniously over Djokovic's head and smacked down inside the baseline. He also served 20 aces.

"You expect him to return me even more easily, because I don't have the power that Andy has," Federer said, referring to Djokovic's quarterfinal opponent Andy Roddick. "But I got maybe a little more variety. I can sort of hide my serve better, you know, so it's harder for him to read. And that doesn't give him the confidence from the baseline, then."

As the 2007 finalist Djokovic exited citing physical and emotional fatigue but declining to discuss any effects from the booing he got Thursday night, Federer strode to within one win of becoming the first player to win two Grand Slam tournaments five consecutive times each. Said this fresh tennis sensation named Federer, "I definitely had that feeling out there today which I had quite often in the past."

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