Roger Federer – The US Open Story
Roger Federer enjoyed unrivalled success at the US Open through the years but also faced some of his toughest defeats there too.
Join Tennishead on a journey through the legend’s career in New York as a champion and competitor.
1. The debut – 2000
Off the back of his Wimbledon junior title, Federer reached the final of the US Open boys’ singles in 1998. He lost to David Nalbandian 6-3, 7-5. In 1999, the Swiss made it to the second round of qualifying before bowing out.
Come the 2000 US Open, the 19-year-old was now ranked 40th in the world and entering his sixth Slam main draw. After falling two sets to love down against Peter Wessels, Federer claimed a win by retirement in the fifth set. Victory over Daniel Nestor saw him face world number 12 Juan Carlos Ferrero. The Spaniard stopped Federer in four sets, 7-5, 7-6 (8-6), 2-6, 7-6 (8-6).
2. A persistent stumbling block – 2001-2003
Federer entered the 2001 US Open off the back of a run to the Wimbledon quarter-finals. After an astounding victory over seven-time champion Pete Sampras there, the youngster faced Andre Agassi in the fourth round in New York. Unlike Sampras, Agassi made short work of Federer to down him 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 in their second ever meeting.
As in 2001, Federer reached the fourth round. And again he was stopped in straight sets, this time by 34th ranked Max Mirnyi, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4. Federer was a newly-crowned Major champion entering the 2003 US Open. After his Wimbledon triumph he was ranked second at Flushing Meadows.
Federer again reached the fourth round, this time meeting Nalbandian. The number two took the lead with a 6-3 set to end his streak of lost sets in the fourth round. But from there the Argentinian took the upper hand to oust Federer in four. A third successive fourth round exit must have annoyed the Swiss.
3. Federer establishes a dynasty – 2004-2008
Federer now had two more Slams to his name from the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2004. The US Open remained the only Major where he was yet to progress past the fourth round. That was all set to change.
Wins over Albert Costa and Fabrice Santoro, plus a walkover past Andrei Pavel, took Federer to another meeting with Agassi. Their seventh ever encounter, Federer had turned the tide from 0-3 to 3-3 in the head-to-head. A five-set fight ensued as the two men duked it out for three hours. Federer came out the victor 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 to complete the overturning of the head-to-head to 4-3.
He then dismissed Tim Henman 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 to face 2001 champion Lleyton Hewitt in the final. What transpired was one of the most one-sided Major finals in history. Federer twice bagelled the Australian to win 6-0, 7-6 (7-3), 6-0 in just an hour and 51 minutes. This was a fourth Slam crown for Federer, his third in 2004.
Semi-final runs in Melbourne and Paris and another Wimbledon title must have shot Federer full of confidence coming into his US Open title defence. He reached the quarter-finals for the loss of one set before dismantling old foe Nalbandian 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 to reach the last four. There he downed Hewitt as in the 2004 final, the Aussie claiming a set on this occasion.
Federer then faced Agassi for the championship, the 35-year-old American chasing a ninth Slam title and third in New York. But the younger man had too much for the veteran, sealing the title 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (7-1), 6-1.
Another year and two more Slams meant Federer was an eight-time Major champion entering the 2006 US Open. He was 53-1 at Slams outside the French Open since the start of 2004. He was seemingly unstoppable on the grass and hard courts. Federer breezed into the quarter-finals before beating James Blake in four sets. A 6-1, 7-5, 6-4 win over Nikolay Davydenko set up a third consecutive final.
There he took on Andy Roddick, the man he defeated to claim the Wimbledon trophy in 2004 and 2005. The result was the same here, winning 6-2, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1. In doing so the Swiss surpassed Agassi, Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors to reach nine Slam titles. That put him third all-time among men in the Open Era.
Come 2007 the hard-grass Slam record was up to 73-1 since the start of 2004. Federer was now an 11-time Major champion, level with the great Bjorn Borg. Again Federer was untroubled reaching the quarter-finals, defeating Roddick there in straight sets to make the last four. Another simple win over Davydenko made it four finals on the bounce for Federer.
He took on 20-year-old Novak Djokovic in the Serb’s first Slam final. After resisting the Swiss with two tiebreak sets, Djokovic fell 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-2), 6-4. Federer had reached 12 Slam crowns, just two shy of Sampras’ men’s record.
In 2008 Federer had finally been conquered at Wimbledon by Rafael Nadal. While his invincible varnish had been dulled slightly, he still ruled at Flushing Meadows. The first test came in the fourth round against Igor Andreev. Federer required five sets to take down the Russian and reach the last eight. Wins over Gilles Muller and Djokovic took him to the final.
There awaited another young up-and-comer, sixth ranked Andy Murray. As ever Federer was too strong, downing the Brit 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 to land a 13th Slam crown. In doing so the 27-year-old joined Sampras and Connors on a men’s record five US Open titles, winning them all consecutively. Could the Swiss be stopped stateside?
4. Federer defied – 2009
Federer now had 15 Slam titles, surpassing Sampras as the men’s Major record holder. He had completed the Career Grand Slam too. Surely his stature would outshine the field again in New York?
That was indeed the case up until the final, including another victory over Djokovic in the last four. But in the way stood sixth ranked 20-year-old Juan Martin del Potro. The Argentinian had troubled Federer on his run to the French Open title, so the Swiss knew the dangers of the tussle. He kept his nose in front by winning the first and third sets, but his young adversary dug in.
Del Potro claimed the fourth 7-4 in a tiebreak before sealing a career-defining triumph 6-2 in the fifth. He had ended Federer’s run of trophies at five, his win streak in the Big Apple at 40.
5. The Federer formula is cracked – 2010-2014
As Federer reached six consecutive finals from 2004 to 2009, he did not reach one from 2010 to 2014. He was twice stopped by Djokovic in 2010 and 2011 in very similar circumstances. After squandering two match points in the fifth set of their semi-final, Federer fell to the world number three from two sets to one up.
A year on and Federer was two sets to love up on the new world number one. After the Serb claimed the third and fourth to level the match, Federer again had two match points, again passing them up as Djokovic clinched it 7-5 in the decider. This was a second loss from two sets up for Federer in as many Slams after losing to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Wimbledon quarter-finals.
In 2012 Federer breezed into the quarter-finals before being stopped by Tomas Berdych there. Come 2013 he suffered his earliest loss since 2003 as Tommy Robredo felled him in straight sets in the fourth round.
Federer made it to the quarter-finals in 2014 before falling to a two-set deficit against Gael Monfils. But the 17-time Major winner rallied back to win in five sets, reaching his ninth semi-final in New York. What looked like another possible triumph was quickly stunted though. World number 16 Marin Cilic played out of his skin to swipe Federer 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. The Croatian went on to win the final for his only Slam title to date. Five years without a final, would Federer ever make it back there?
6. A glimmer of hope – 2015
Federer was in dominant mid-2000s form at the 2015 US Open. After reaching the fourth round without losing a set, he continued the trend against top 20 pros John Isner and Richard Gasquet. Then faced with compatriot Stan Wawrinka in the semis, Federer dismissed the world number five with similar vigour, 6-4, 6-3, 6-1.
In the final it was Djokovic once again. The two last met in the US Open final in 2007, but had done battle in the final of Wimbledon this year and the last. Federer lost on both occasion, and he would suffer the same fate in New York. The world number one took Federer out 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 for his second title at Flushing Meadows. This was the closest Federer got to another US Open triumph.
7. Federer fades from Flushing Meadows – 2016-2019
After knee surgery at the start of 2016, Federer ended his season early at Wimbledon. He returned rejuvenated in 2017 to win the Australian Open and Wimbledon, entering the US Open ranked third in the world. Two tight encounters with a teenage Frances Tiafoe and old adversary Mikhail Youzhny both required fives sets from the 35-year-old.
Straight sets wins against Feliciano Lopez and Philipp Kohlschreiber brought a quarter-final against del Potro. Eight years on from their last New York meeting, the Argentinian still had Federer’s number. He won through 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (10-8), 6-4 before falling to eventual champion Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals.
2018 saw Federer ease past Yoshihito Nishioka, Benoit Paire and Nick Kyrgios. Next came what many assumed would be an easy ride for the Swiss against 55th ranked John Millman. It was anything but as the Australian axed Federer 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (9-7), 7-6 (7-3).
In 2019 Federer had reached his 31st and last Slam final at Wimbledon, suffering a heartbreaking loss to Djokovic despite holding two championship points. Still, he was in good form entering New York. He required four sets against 190th Sumit Nagal and world number 99 Damir Dzumhur. But then dominant wins over Dan Evans 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 and David Goffin 6-2, 6-2, 6-0 set him back on track.
Grigor Dimitrov was next in the quarter-finals. The Bulgarian was rebuilding after tumbling down the rankings to 78th in the world. Federer looked strong in the first three sets to lead 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. But Dimitrov surged back to claim the final two sets 6-4, 6-2.
Few could suspect that this would be Federer’s final match at the US Open. However, injury hampered the Swiss in 2020, 2021 and 2022 before he hung up his racket soon after the 2022 event.
Federer Career Record at the US Open
Federer made 16 consecutive appearances at the US Open from his 2000 debut to 2015, taking part three more times for 19 appearances total. He won 89 matches there, placing him second among men in the Open Era in terms of match wins.
Win-loss: 89-14, 86% win percentage (2nd most wins Open Era among men, joint 4th overall men and women)
Title Strike Rate: 5 of 19
Finals record: 5-2
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