Federer beats the heat, Beck; Soderling looms
NEW YORK – Roger Federer is one cool customer.
The temperature climbed into the 90s yet again Thursday at Flushing Meadows, and the guy showed up for work wearing a warmup jacket. Then he put in his 1 hour, 41 minutes on court, dismissing 104th-ranked Andreas Beck of Germany 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 with the help of 15 aces, to ease into the third round of the U.S. Open.
“It’s about just saving your energy for the really big match coming up, maybe the next one,” Federer said, perhaps mindful that he was pushed to five sets in the opening round at Wimbledon in June before eventually losing in the quarterfinals at a second consecutive major tournament.
He dropped all of seven games in the first round of the U.S. Open, and the owner of a record 16 Grand Slam titles is feeling pretty good about things at the moment.
“It’s the perfect start, sure. I played Monday; had two days off. I had another easy one physically today, and here I am in the third round feeling like I’m completely in the tournament,” said Federer, a five-time U.S. Open champion and the only man left in the field who has won it.
“I got a sense for how the court speed is again. I got the sense of the crowd and the wind now, as well. I played one night, one day,” he continued. “I have all the answers after two matches.”
In other words: Let everyone else sweat it out.
Like Kei Nishikori, the 147th-ranked qualifier from Japan, who fought cramps in his racket-holding right hand and elsewhere while taking a minute shy of five hours to wrap up a 5-7, 7-6 (6), 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-1 victory over 11th-seeded Marin Cilic.
“It was very humid. It wasn’t easy to get the oxygen,” said Cilic, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist last year, and an Australian Open semifinalist in January.
The 20-year-old Nishikori began feeling his muscles tighten in the second set but didn’t really begin worrying until after trailing 2-1 in sets.
“I was thinking about it in fourth set, mostly: ‘Even if I win this, I have to play one more set. It’s not going to be easy for me, you know, cramping,”‘ said Nishikori, who reached the fourth round two years ago, the first Japanese man since 1937 to get that far at the U.S. Open. “But I was able to fight through.”
His was one of a handful of upsets on Day 4 of a tournament that is quickly accumulating surprises. Beatrice Capra, an 18-year-old from Ellicott City, Md., made like 2009 U.S. Open darling Melanie Oudin and ousted No. 18-seeded Aravane Rezai of France 7-5, 2-6, 6-3.
No. 9 Agnieszka Radwanska lost to Peng Shuai, and No. 22 Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez lost to Patty Schnyder. Seeded winners included 2004 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, 2008 runner-up Jelena Jankovic and 2010 Wimbledon finalist Vera Zvonareva. Top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki, like Federer, didn’t waste any time on court, blanking 84th-ranked Chang Kai-chen 6-0, 6-0.
At 371st, Capra is the lowest-ranked woman left. She’s also the youngest – and not only is she making her Grand Slam debut, she’s playing in the main draw of a tour-level event for the first time. She said she “watched every second” as Oudin, then 17, reached the quarterfinals 12 months ago.
“I really look up to Melanie,” said Capra, who earned a wild card from the U.S. Tennis Association by winning an eight-entrant playoff. “You know, it was really inspiring to me.”
One of the women Oudin knocked off in 2009, three-time major champion Maria Sharapova, awaits Capra in the third round. Wearing tuxedo lapels on her deep purple night-match dress, Sharapova beat 68th-ranked Iveta Benesova of the Czech Republic 6-1, 6-2 under the lights.
“When I was younger, I used to always look up to her,” Capra said about 2006 U.S. Open champion Sharapova, who is all of 23 now, “and so I think it will be a really good match for me to see where I am compared to that kind of level.”
Asked what she knows about Capra, the 14th-seeded Sharapova said: “Not too much. I know that she’s American, and she’s 18, I believe, and she’s in the third round of the Open, so that says a lot.”
Sharapova was followed into Arthur Ashe Stadium by 2008 Australian Open winner Novak Djokovic, whose 7-5, 6-3, 7-6 (6) victory over 52nd-ranked Philipp Petzschner of Germany was interrupted briefly in the eighth game while police escorted out three spectators after a fight in the upper deck.
Djokovic made it to at least the semifinals in New York each of the past three years – and lost to Federer each time.
Among those winning in the afternoon were Richard Gasquet, a former top-10 player who eliminated No. 6-seeded Nikolay Davydenko 6-3, 6-4, 6-2; Robin Soderling, a two-time French Open runner-up who beat American Taylor Dent 6-2, 6-2, 6-4; and South Africa’s Kevin Anderson, who outlasted No. 26 Thomaz Bellucci 6-7 (4), 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (2).
Americans Mardy Fish and James Blake won, as did No. 13 Jurgen Melzer, No. 21 Albert Montanes, and No. 22 Juan Carlos Ferrero. Blake, a wild-card entry, will take on No. 3 Djokovic in the third round.
The No. 5-seeded Soderling’s next opponent will be 48th-ranked Thiemo de Bakker, who advanced Thursday when Ivan Dodig quit in the fourth set because of cramping.
Soderling-Dent was in the third set during Federer’s postmatch news conference. And Federer – whose loss to Soderling in the French Open quarterfinals this year ended a record streak of 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinal appearances – kept glancing at the flat-screen TV on the wall to his right, surely aware that he could meet the Swede again in that round next week.
Federer has won 42 of his past 43 matches at Flushing Meadows, the only loss coming in last year’s final to Juan Martin del Potro, who didn’t defend his title after wrist surgery. With Andy Roddick’s exit in the second round Wednesday night, and Lleyton Hewitt’s departure in the first, Federer is the only previous winner of the U.S. Open left in the men’s field.
“It’s definitely an advantage, I would think, because (of) the conditions here,” Federer said. “You could be unlucky and get hit with a really hot day or a very windy day, and not even in your control, sometimes, you lose a match here. That’s where it’s important, like today, to get through easily, instead of maybe going (through a) five-hour match.”
Tell that to Nishikori.