Roger Federer's early exit shocked those who thought he was back to his major-winning form
Day 10 at the U.S. Open was worth the wait. Aside from the fact that the rain held out long enough to allow there to actually be tennis, the day was filled with a handful of astonishing moments.
Many could have correctly predicted Wednesday’s biggest headline: the retirement of Andy Roddick.
However, there were other big moments that may have outshined Roddick’s farewell—at least on the international stage.
Here are the four most surprising moments from Wednesday’s matches.
Djokovic looks unbeatable right now
Nobody expected Stanislas Wawrinka to upset the reigning U.S. Open champ, Novak Djokovic, but surely the ease with which the No. 19 player in the world was dismissed came as a bit of a surprise.
Wawrinka came into the match playing some good tennis. Through the first three rounds, Wawrinka accumulated 108 winners and 54 aces, to go along with 78 unforced errors.
I wrote this article last week explaining why Djokovic would repeat as champion. One reason was his remarkable work in the return game. That proved to be the deciding factor in this beat down. Wawrinka aced Djokovic only five times and won only fifteen first-serve points the entire match.
Wawrinka retired early, but there was no way he was going to grab another game off Djokovic in the third set.
With Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal already out, and Andy Murray needing a drastic turnaround to advance, Djokovic looks to be the landslide favorite at this junction. He will get Del Potro in the quarterfinals, and the really astonishing moment would be if he loses.
The tennis world will miss Andy Roddick
The fact that Andy Roddick lost to the seventh seed, Juan Martin Del Potro, was not surprising.
Del Potro is the better player. Del Potro is a fringe great player. It would have been astonishing if he lost. Rather, it was how Roddick lost, and, even more specifically, how quickly he lost, that left me stunned.
Roddick built a career on his ability to start matches in midseason form, so to speak.
Growing up playing tennis, this was always something that I found to be particularly difficult. It takes time—or should I say, most people time—before a rhythm is established and shots can be made without any thought or overconcentration. The problem is, naturally, that winning the first game is no more important than the fifth or sixth.
After rain interrupted their match, Roddick entered the day with a significant advantage because the opening points would decide the first set. As expected, Roddick took it.
He continued to cruise through the second. Up until the second set tiebreaker, Roddick lost only seven points on serve in Wednesday’s action. And it wasn’t just the serve. His forehand was working, he was making Del Potro work for his points and he seemed to have a legitimate I-might-be-able-to-actually-pull-this-off attitude.
But it all ended in the second tiebreaker. Roddick lost his serves and, just as quickly as the notion of one more Roddick game entered the country’s collective minds, it was eliminated.
At first, it looked like Del Potro didn’t want to be the one to end Roddick’s career. The idea was wishful thinking. By the time Del Potro won the sixth game of the third set in one minute and six seconds, Roddick faced an insurmountable final mission. And I’m still left wondering how things went sour so quickly.
Here are two sub-astonishing moments from the match.
1. After nearly four full matches and over 529 minutes of intensive viewing, analysis and commentary, John McEnroe finally noticed Andy Roddick’s flashy, patriotic shoes. The realization came after the second point of the seventh game of the fourth set of Wednesday’s match, at which point a suddenly intrigued McEnroe asked, “Has he been wearing those the entire tournament?”
2. ESPN elected to cut away from the Andy Murray second set turning point to show some of Andy Roddick’s press conference following his defeat. While it is astonishing that it took them minutes to realize they could simply reduce the conference to a smaller box and provide the audio, thereby allowing their audience to continue to watch one of the biggest points of any match in the tournament thus far, the real shocker came following one of the reporter's inquiries.
Apparently, a woman had asked Roddick to sign her chest some years back. Looking back on the incident, Roddick responded on Wednesday saying, “I had just never seen a boob before, to be honest. You know ... that was just overwhelming."
Maria Sharapova yells sometimes.
In Maria Sharapova’s grunt-heavy affair with Marion Bartoli.
There were moments when I was unsure as to whether the two were more interested in hitting the ball harder or yelling louder than the other. Bartoli’s two-handed forehand and frequent C-mon’s only exacerbated the situation.
However, I cannot recall a female tennis player whose outbursts are more justified than are those of Bartoli. You are missing out on a real treat if you have never seen her play. In many ways, Bartoli is the Nadal of women’s tennis. Every ball receives a full-body thumping and she dances across the baseline like few I can recall.
All joking aside, Sharapova’s 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 win came in the best women’s match of the 2012 Open.
Murray dazzled audiences with a gritty performance
Andy Murray and Roger Federer both found themselves in a deep hole in their respective quarterfinal matches, but only one found a way to overcome. Well, surprise, surprise, it was the “underachieving” Andy Murray who found a way to advance to the semis.
I use quotations because only in the era of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic would a player like Murray (and a slew of other perennial Top-10 finishers), be without a title.
Marin Cilic was absolutely dominating Murray through most of the first two sets.
Tomas Berdych offered Federer a similar predicament in their match. Federer is the virtually undisputed greatest tennis player of all time (or at least I don’t dispute it), but it was Murray’s early struggles that left me more surprised.
Sure, Federer recently revived his career, but the case can be made that Andy Murray had the most productive summer of any single player on the tour. He came up just short at Wimbledon while carrying the pressure of an entire nation and responded with Olympic Gold.
Roger Federer has a year on the newest member of AARP, Andy Roddick. No loss should come as a surprise at this stage in his career, even for someone of his caliber. But surely, the time was not now for Murray to suffer a letdown.
Down 1-5 in the second set, Murray unleashed a furry of aggressive forehands and controlling serves. He broke Cilic twice and took the tiebreaker 7-4. And, as they say in Goodfellas, “That’s that.”
Cilic got just two more games the rest of the way, openly acknowledging that he missed out on one of those fleeting opportunities to take down one of the giants of modern tennis.
A few hours later, while most of the country tuned in for either the Dallas-Giants game or the DNC, Roger Federer was in a similar situation.
Berdych reigned down hellfire with his powerful serve while Federer committed 27 unforced errors through the first two sets.
For a short while, it looked like Federer would one-up Murray once again. His comeback would begin two sets down. The back half of the third set was all the Swiss Maestro, as he won 15 of 18 points before serving out the set to win it 6-3.
But, unlike Cilic, Berdych didn’t allow the favorite to regain control.
Berdych earned a trip to the semi-final after winning the fourth set 6-3. In the process, he pulled off the most astonishing moment of the tournament since Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s early exit.