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.
With Major No. 18 Teed Up, Federer Falls to Cilic and Fails to Deliver
NEW YORK — If you had told Roger Federer before the U.S. Open began that he would need to beat Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori to win his 18th Grand Slam title, he probably would’ve asked where to initial his signature “RF.”
And that was exactly the situation the Swiss legend found himself in on Saturday afternoon entering his semifinal with Cilic, a 6-foot-6 Croat against whom Federer was 5-0.
Nishikori had already upset world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in a stunning four-setter, and now Federer, the No. 3 man in the world, was teed up to win his elusive 18th major by beating two men ranked 16th and 11th in the world.
But hey, that’s why they play the matches, right?
Federer still won’t win his elusive 18th major after Cilic blitzkrieged him, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in just 1 hour, 45 minutes to advance to Monday’s final against Nishikori.
After winning five straight titles here from 2004-8, Federer hasn’t been able to win another.
Federer insisted the Nishikori upset “didn’t have an effect” on his mindset going in and that he was “pretty much focused,” but conceded he was “disappointed.”
“I really felt like I could win this tournament,” he said. “That’s not going to happen.”
This U.S. Open final will mark the first major final since the 2005 Australian Open without any member of the Big Four of Federer, Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray.
Either Cilic, 25, or Nishikori, 24, will become just the third man in the last 39 Grand Slam events to win a championship not named Federer, Nadal, Djokovic or Murray.
Juan Martin del Potro, who won here in 2009, and Stan Wawrinka, winner at this year’s Australian Open, are the others.
“Just amazing day for me, I feel amazing,” said Cilic, who banged out 13 aces and hit 43 winners against 23 unforced errors. “To be able to play like this I never dreamed of. I think today was my best performance ever in my career.”
Of the final against Nishikori, the first Japanese man to reach a Grand Slam final, Cilic added: “I think that’s going to be a sensational day for both of us. I’m extremely happy to be in the final first time in my career. I’m just going to enjoy, be happy and try to win.”
While crediting Cilic for “playing great,” Federer isn’t buying the “new faces” in tennis argument, and shows his displeasure when reporters suggest a new wave is pushing him out.
“You create your stories,” he told a huge crowd of media. “You said the same in Australia, everybody; and then we know what happened at the French Open final, Wimbledon final. But this is another chance for you guys, you know. So you should write what you want. I don’t think so, but…”
After Federer went down two sets to love, the crowd wondered if he might be able to pull magic out of his hat once again.
On Thursday night, he had come back from two sets down and double-match point to fend off the Frenchman Gael Monfils for his ninth comeback from 0-2 down.
“I wasn’t as confident this time around, because Marin played more aggressive,” Federer said. “He was serving huge.”
After he got an early break to go up 2-0 on Cilic in the third, the crowd tried to roar Federer back to life. But he quickly gave back the break and then was broken again in the seventh game. He couldn’t touch Cilic on the big man’s serve, and was helpless against his massive flat groundstrokes.
“Roger is always my idol, but Cilic is playing really well this year,” Nishikori told CBS during the match.
“Roger’s movement is not what we’ve seen this tournament,” John McEnroe said on CBS. “He’s struggling right now.”
The 33-year-old Federer has now lost a five-set Wimbledon final to Djokovic and here in Flushing Meadows, two golden opportunities to get major No. 18.
Nadal is currently tied with Pete Sampras at 14, and Djokovic remains stuck at seven.
Had Federer been able to win here, he would have put some additional distance between himself and Nadal, and increased his case as the GOAT — the Greatest of All Time — despite his 10-23 record against Nadal.
Asked if winning No. 18 was important to him, he played it off.
“I mean, not to my life,” he said. “I don’t need it to be more happy or anything. But the moment itself, it would mean a lot, you know. I keep working hard to win titles on the tour, not just No. 18. I was very happy to get to No. 80 the other week, so that was huge for me. You know, I’ll give it a go again in Australia; hope to be healthy there. I enjoy playing there. It’s been one of my most consistent slams. I hope to, you know, get another chance at it. I can’t do more than try really hard, which I’m doing.”
And after this result, he must continue to try real hard for No. 18.
Photo: US Open
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.