<
>

Federer to face Roddick in quarters; Blake ousted

9/4/2007 - Tennis

NEW YORK -- Roger Federer was scuffling against a Spanish
lefty -- no, not that one -- at the U.S. Open on Monday night. He
lost the first set to Feliciano Lopez, barely won the second, then
trailed love-40 to start the third.

And then Federer did the sort of remarkable thing that only
Federer does: He won the next 35 points he served.

Answering every question Lopez posed with an exclamation point,
Federer took control of the third set and the match, coming back to
win 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 in the fourth round at Flushing Meadows.

Next up for the No. 1-ranked Federer, bidding to become the
first man to win four consecutive U.S. Open titles since the 1920s:
a quarterfinal against No. 5 Andy Roddick, the 2003 champion and
the runner-up last year.

Federer is 13-1 against Roddick.

"It's a great record, but it doesn't help me," Federer said.
"We'll see how it goes. Andy's always tough at the U.S. Open."

With No. 6 James Blake losing to No. 10 Tommy Haas in five sets
earlier Monday, Roddick is the only American man left -- making this
the first U.S. Open since 1998 without at least two in the
quarterfinals.

Certainly, no one expected all that much from Lopez, who went
into Monday with an 0-4 mark against Federer and only one Grand
Slam quarterfinal appearance on his resume.

Federer, meanwhile, not only has won 11 Grand Slam titles -- he
has reached a record 14 consecutive major semifinals and nine
straight major finals. And that latter stat might have been nine
straight major titles but for No. 2 Rafael Nadal, the left-hander
from Spain who beat Federer in the past two French Open
championship matches.

Doing a pretty fair impersonation of his better-known
countryman, Lopez was spectacular at the start. He hit well-angled
serves that caught Federer flat-footed and volleyed brilliantly,
including one right to a corner to earn a quick break and a 3-1
lead. Lopez blew a set point by missing a backhand on a 25-stroke
exchange, but then used a 118 mph service winner to take the
opening set.

Lopez was right with Federer in the second set, too, getting to
4-all with another nice volley winner. But while serving in the
10th game, Lopez faltered ever so slightly, and when he dumped an
over-the-shoulder volley try in the net, Federer broke to even
things.

"He was playing fantastic for the first two sets," Federer
said. "I really had to struggle."

And then Lopez won the first three points of the third set on
Federer's serve, setting up three break points. Lopez put a
forehand in the net on the first. Federer delivered an ace on the
second. Lopez hit a forehand that clipped the net and fell back on
his side on the third. And that was it: Federer then smacked an
ace, followed by a forehand winner, and was off on his run of
service points, which ended in the match's final game.

Roddick's road, meanwhile, has been easy so far.

The 2003 champion strolled into the quarterfinals when Berdych stopped playing early in the second set because he
was having trouble breathing, meaning two of Roddick's four foes at
Flushing Meadows have quit on him.

And both of Roddick's matches that were completed, against men
ranked 475th and 68th, were over in three sets.

Now things get a lot more daunting with Federer looming.

"You feel the extra weight of most big matches. That's just the
way it is. But I'm excited. I expect a lot of myself," Roddick
said. "I don't think anybody else really expects much from me."

Blake, meanwhile, certainly had his chances to avoid another fifth-set disappointment.

Seven times, he was two points away from victory.

Three times, he was a single point away.

Blake failed to convert all three of those match points, then played about as poorly as he did all day in the final-set tiebreaker.

"I was a little indecisive at the end there," said Blake, who
was 0-9 in five-setters until finally winning one in the second
round last week. "Did come down to one or two points there. It's
frustrating I didn't win them this time."

The match ended a tad oddly, with a raucous, pro-Blake crowd
hushed during instant-replay challenges on each of the final two
points. While waiting for the final replay -- which showed that
Haas' 113 mph ace was, indeed, in -- the players smiled sheepishly
at each other and approached the net for a handshake they knew was
coming.

"I'm not going to celebrate like crazy right in front of him,"
Haas said.

Haas will face No. 4 Nikolay Davydenko in the
quarterfinals. Davydenko, at the center of a gambling probe being
conducted by the men's professional tour, eliminated Lee Hyung-taik
6-1, 6-3, 6-4.

Blake's quality dipped in the tiebreaker, though, which he began
by flubbing a groundstroke. At 3-3 came the point of the match, a
15-stroke exchange in which Haas lofted two terrific lobs. On the
first, Blake sprinted back to the baseline and hit an
over-the-shoulder shot to extend the point. On the second, he had
no chance.

"I just felt, like, 'OK, let's try it again,'" Haas said.
"What a point! If I would have lost that point, the crowd would
have gone absolutely ballistic."

Instead, Blake then double-faulted to fall behind 5-3, and soon
it was over. How distant his match points must have seemed then.

All of the American's oh-so-close opportunities came when he led
5-4 in the fifth set with Haas serving. Blake's first match point
arrived courtesy of a double-fault. Haas recovered from that gaffe
to produce a 116 mph serve, drawing a weak return from Blake that
the German turned into a forehand winner.

Haas erased the second match point with a 117 mph service
winner, and the third with a 119 mph service winner.

"He can get hot like that," Blake said. "He's talented."

The German reached No. 2 in the rankings in 2002, but that
professional success was dampened by personal sorrow in July that
year when Haas' parents were seriously injured in a motorcycle
crash. He took six weeks off from tennis while they recuperated --
and then he missed all of 2003 after two operations on his right
shoulder.

He's struggled with injuries in 2007, too, pulling out of a
match against Federer at Wimbledon because of a torn abdominal
muscle.

Blake's annus horribilis was 2004: He lost his father to cancer,
broke a disk in his neck during a practice session, and got a virus
that paralyzed his face.

Haas and Blake know each other's stories well.

"Both of us playing at this level again, playing in front of an
unbelievable crowd -- I mean, it's as good as it gets for us," Haas
said. "I know one of us had to lose today. I think we both can be
very proud of what we've achieved."

He, of course, was prouder. The U.S. Open is the only major that
uses a fifth-set tiebreaker. Not surprisingly, Haas loves that.

"Every Grand Slam," he said, "should have it."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.