Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NEW YORK — A year ago, Roger Federer held double-match point on Novak Djokovic in the U.S. Open semifinals.
During those moments, Federer admitted he allowed his mind to wander ahead to the thought of playing his arch-rival Rafael Nadal in the final the following day.
Beating Djokovic and Nadal on back-to-back days would have been a tough task for the then-29-year-old Federer and that thought crept into his mind.
“It is true that I did think of the Rafa final and the prospect, you know, trying to get there without maybe losing too much energy,” Federer said after dispatching No. 11 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 to advance to his eighth straight U.S. Open semifinal. “Maybe that was one of the reasons I was not able to stay tougher in two of the sets I lost, actually.
“Still should have won the match, maybe, but it’s just a tough prospect.”
Ultimately, Federer never got the chance to play Nadal because he ended up surrendering the match points and losing to Djokovic in five sets, snapping Federer’s run of six consecutive Open finals appearances.
Now, No. 3 Federer will get another crack at No. 1 Djokovic when they meet in the semifinals on Saturday, the fifth straight year the two will tangle at the Open. And he will have the luxury of knowing the final will be played on Monday — not Sunday.
Federer leads Djokovic 14-9 all-time, including a victory in this year’s French Open semifinals.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” said Federer, who won the Open five straight years between 2004-08 before losing in the 2009 final to Juan Martin del Potro. “He’s had an amazing season. This year he’s really been able to step it up.
“I’m up to it and I’m really looking forward to playing him.”
Djokovic, the Australian Open and Wimbledon champ, advanced earlier when his Serbian countryman Janko Tipsarevic retired down 7-6, 6-7, 6-0, 3-0. He is now 62-2 in 2011.
Tsonga said he hopes Federer beats Djokovic and believes he is playing well enough to win his 17th major. He is already the all-time leader with 16.
“I hope for him,” Tsonga said. “Every time when he lost everybody say Roger is finished. For me he’s still the same player. He’s very good. When the confidence is there for him, it’s tough for everybody to play against him.”
Federer did not seem overly bothered by a rain delay in the first set that lasted 1 hour, 35 minutes.
His forehand looked especially crisp and he finished the match with 29 winners. He won 72 percent of his first serve points and banged out five aces.
Tsonga, who roared back from a two-sets-to-love deficit against Federer in the Wimbledon quarters and then beat him again in Montreal, could not muster a similar performance. He hit 17 winners against 34 unforced errors and won just 53 percent of his first serve points.
“I didn’t really play well,” he said. “I didn’t move well.”
Still, when Federer was up two sets to love, he admitted that his mind flashed back to the Wimbledon loss.
“Sure, a little bit,” he said with a smile. “Why not?”
Federer, 30, will now have a day off before facing Djokovic on Saturday. Should he win, he would then get another day off before the final, which was moved to Monday for the fourth straight year after players complained about the compressed schedule.
“We are happy but it is the fourth finals in a row that we’re playing on Monday,” Federer said. “I just don’t think the Super Saturday, Saturday/Sunday [semifinal/final] is working anymore.
“I don’t think we have enough cushions at the back end of the tournament. For the players and the fans, it would be better that way.”
For his part, Djokovic said he was opposed to the Monday final because he and Tipsarevic have to get ready for the Davis Cup semifinals, which begin Sept. 16.
“I’m not really happy about that to be honest,” Djokovic said. “I’m not, because there is always Davis Cup.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.