The semi-finals at the top of the men’s US Open draw is complete but the spots are not filled by the players who would be expected to feature there.
It's a best of five sets. Anything can happen. Grigor Dimitrov
Having seen the world number one knocked out in the previous round, the field looked open for the third highest ranked player and former five-time champion Roger Federer to cruise into the final.
But not so for the very unexpected happened on Arthur Ashe Stadium. Grigor Dimitrov brought any hopes of Federer extending his record tally of 20 Grand Slams crashing down as he outlasted the 38-year-old Swiss icon 3-6 6-4 3-6 6-4 6-2 to slip into the last four.
Dimitrov, at 78, is now the lowest ranking player to reach the semi-finals since Jimmy Connors in 1991 when he was ranked 147.
The Bulgarian, who has been affectionately known as ‘Baby Fed’ because of his graceful backhand, had never beaten Federer in their previous seven meetings, as he improved on his previous best runs of 4th round appearances in 2014 and 2016.
But its not the first time he has made the pre-final match of a Grand Slam having featured in the semi-final at Wimbledon (2014) and the Australian Open (2017).
“I’m just happy,” Dimitrov said. “The only thing I was telling myself was to stay in the match. Physically I was feeling pretty good. I was hitting some shots against him that were hard to hit.”
Federer breezed through the first set in 29-minutes and despite losing the second, looked in complete control when he established a two-sets to one lead only to find himself under pressure when he lost the opening game of the fourth of failed to convert one of the five break points he held in the 10th game as Dimitov levelled the match.
“I was trying to stay in that game and make him stay on the court as much as possible. After that he started slowing down a little bit,” Dimitrov revealed.
“It’s a best of five sets. Anything can happen.”
And then Federer called for the trainer in an unusual move for a man who had rarely been injured let alone received on-court treatment during his long career. The pair went off court where he received treatment to upper back near his neck, and commented later: “This is Grigor’s moment, not my body’s moment.”
Dimitrov broke Federer twice on the way to a 4-0 lead in the final set as the Federer challenge slowly evaporated and after three hours and 12 minutes the Swiss star left the court having committed 61 unforced errors.
“It’s OK. It’s how it goes,” Federer, who could have become the oldest Flushing Meadows semi-finalist since that man Jimmy Connors aged 39 in 1991, said. “I tried my best. I fought with what I had and that’s it.
“Had moments that I was in the lead most of the time. Had a chance to come back in the fourth. Start of the fourth wasn’t ideal. Start of the fifth wasn’t ideal. That was running behind. That was tough,” a disappointed Federer added.
“Just disappointed it’s over because I did feel like I was actually playing really well after a couple of rocky starts.
“It’s just a missed opportunity to some extent that you’re in the lead, you can get through, you have two days off after. It was looking good. But got to take the losses. They’re part of the game.”
But on a day of the unexpected, the top place in the draw was filled by Daniil Medvedev who earlier in the day, had taken out another former champion, Stan Wawrinka 7-6(6) 6-3 3-6 6-1 to reach his first major semi-final, shaking off a sore left quadriceps that made him contemplate quitting the match.
Now he gets two days’ off in which he will be able to rest and receive the necessary treatment to ensure he returns to the fray to try and reach his first Grand Slam final, a goal Dimitrov is also chasing.
“That’s huge advantage regarding what happened to my leg,” Medvedev admitted. “It should be OK.”
The Russian had taken a medical timeout to have the area taped and been given a painkiller.
“In the fourth set, I started feeling the painkiller and started moving better,” he said. “For sure I hope to be ready for the semis.”
Medvedev, who has now been dubbed the ‘Marathon Man’, is the in-form player and has been many pundits outsider for the title is maintaining the momentum of what has been an excellent run over the past few weeks with ATP finals, including a title at Cincinnati.
And like Dimitrov, the 23-year-old’s appearance in the last four has helped to rewrite the record books as he becomes the youngest US Open semi-finalist since Novak Djokovic in 2010 and Russia’s first Grand Slam semi-finalist since Mikhail Youzhny at the 2010 US Open.
“He has been having a tremendous summer,” Dimitrov said of Medvedev with whom he has split their previous two meeting. “I know his game. I’m just going to try and recover and reassess the (Federer) match first and prepare from then on for Daniil. He’s a tough player. He’s tricky.”
Interestingly the beaten Wawrinka did not believe Medvedev would emerge as the the 2019 champion on Sunday.
“He can, but I don’t think he will,” the Swiss No.2 said. “I think it’s going to be really difficult because he looks to start to be tired, and he has to beat some more tougher player in the semi-final and then in the final.”
In Wednesday’s quarter-finals, Spanish second seed Rafael Nadal faces the 20th seed from Argentina, Diego Schwartzman while the French 13th seed Gael Monfils plays Italian 24th seed Matteo Berrettini.
Currently Nadal looks to be favourite for his fourth US Open trophy and 19th overall Grand Slam.