It’s almost as if Roger Federer strode onto Arthur Ashe Stadium trying to prove to Serena Williams that anything she can do, he can do better — before it all started to go pear-shaped.
The 20-time grand slam champion wasted little time taking the lead and the first set over Grigor Dimitrov but from there it was all downhill for Federer as he was sent packing 3-6 6-4 3-6 6-4 6-2.
It was not just Grigor Dimitrov that stunned Federer, as ESPN commentator Chris Fowler pointed out “Father Time waits for no one,” and as Federer’s troublesome back flared up once again that statement proved true.
The injury came on during the fourth set and impacted Federer badly in the fifth — he had received treatment at the end of the fourth set but it did little to improve the issue, Dimitrov though had played an unbelievable match, while Federer, who made an astonishing 60 unforced errors, mostly off his forehand, was well off his best.
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Usually his best shot it deserted him against Dimitrov as unforced errors and shanks mounted.
For the Bulgarian it was a return to form after a horror 2019 season that saw the former top ten player’s ranking drop to 79 in the world.
Federer had been all over Dimitrov early and was at his peerless best in the opening set but Dimitrov, who had never in their previous seven meetings beaten Federer, claimed a famous victory in the quarter-final.
At the end of the third set Federer seemed to be cruising but Dimitrov, who had blown chances in that set roared back, breaking Federer in the opening game of the fourth set.
Both players had chances to break and Federer, who was looking increasingly laboured and repeatedly grabbing his back fought incredibly hard to stay in it, saving eight break points at 4-2 down.
It took its toll though and Federer failed in one last push when he desperately tried to break Dimitrov’s serve when the Bulgarian was serving for the set at 5-4.
Dimitrov though saved five break points, going for it and hitting out off all wings to save them and level the match at two sets all.
When Federer came back to the court he was not the same, while Dimitrov was doing push ups no less, he was not the same and Dimitrov quickly took the match and booked a semi-final spot against Daniil Medvedev.
It had been an insane contest the whole way through: Read on below for our blow-by-blow coverage of an epic that had some crazy highlights.
For Federer, the 29-minute domination was a continuation of a career-long ownership of the Bulgarian once dubbed Baby Fed, as he belted down three aces and eight winners in a quick-fire opening set.
Dimitrov eventually found some rhythm but after being broken early was in no shape to comeback in the opening set.
The Bulgarian stunned everyone and hit back, winning just the third set in 20 lifetime attempts against Federer to level the match.
The Swiss managed to save off a break point in the fourth game by sticking a stab volley and then following up with some big serves but a few games later he could not hold off Dimitrov any longer.
Dimitrov broke Federer for a 4-2 lead as the Swiss star made two consecutive unforced errors, shanking the first off the frame and into the crowd before netting the next to give Dimitrov a break.
It left commentator John McEnroe astonished, but such has been the up and down nature of Federer this week in New York he labelled this Dimitrov’s “huge opportunity”.
Dimitrov then appeared to squander that chance when serving for the set.
He basically tripped over himself on a split step while approaching the net and then dumped a second serve into it to gift Federer the break back and get it back on serve at 5-4.
And as social media pointed out Dimitrov’s blunder was “hardly surprising”.
Amazingly though Dimitrov broke Federer again in the very next game as the 38-year-old took an airswing at a routine volley, perhaps blinded by the lights, as McEnroe was again left stunned shouting “what in the world”.
If that was stunning, the start to the third set continued the Federer forehand shank-a-thon as unforced errors flowed freely.
Even with triple break point at 2-2 the Swiss star went completely timid in his approach.
He missed a passing shot at 15-40 and then chipped the ball back on his final break point, gifting Dimitrov an advantage he gladly took to hold serve when all looked lost.
But then it was Dimitrov’s turn to choke, giving a game away with another double fault. If that was a blow to his confidence the next game would have doubled it.
Another shank forehand and a missed backhand from Federer gave Dimitrov the chance to break back but he missed a routine forehand pass before Federer held his serve.
He then broke Dimitrov yet again to take the set on the back of an “obscene” lob that left the crowd wanting more.
Clearly his wonky end to the third set did not bother Dimitrov one iota, as he came out for the fourth and broke the Federer serve immediately.
That was again on the back of more missed forehands from Federer, who had been struggling on that wing all match and even his attempts to hit his way out of it failed.
Aussie expert Darren Cahill had an idea why and it was all to do with time catching up to the 38-year-old great.
“In the past he has been so good with his hands but I think as you get older you have to make sure your footwork is better and at the moment he is really struggling with his timing,” Cahill said.
Federer’s troublesome back also began flaring up in drama that would play out later.
Federer had his chance to break back at 2-3 but Dimitrov held on before Federer himself held on to his own serve, saving eight break points to hold and only be behind a single break.
The game saw Dimitrov hit one of the shots of the tournament with a searing backhand pass from way outside the court.
The single game also lasted more than a quarter of Serena Williams’ earlier women’s singles quarter final.
Commentators and fans were getting more and more concerned by Federer’s back woes as his serve speed began to drop and the forehand errors for the match reached 26 by the end of the game.
“Federer, inexplicably again misfiring on the forehand,” said McEnroe, as he highlighted an issue the Swiss great will have to arrest if he is to win this match.
Dimitrov then displayed calm nerves to save five break points and take the set 6-4, levelling the match.
It’s a long way from anywhere Dimitrov has been this year and as McEnroe suggested almost hard to believe given an appalling 2019 by his standards.
“If you told him the week before this event he would be playing Federer in the quarters and this would be the score he may not have believed you.”
Federer bounced back onto the court as Dimitrov managed to do back stretches of his own but the Federer box looked worried as he came back onto the court.
And they should have been, Dimitrov came out and broke Federer immediately and then held his serve, winning 9 of the first 11 points of the fifth set as he went out to a 2-0 lead.
He then secured the double break as a desperate Federer served and volleyed to keep the points short, it was a “tragic” beginning to the end for Federer’s grand slam year.
The upset of the Open was officially on as Federer’s body and age ultimately caught up to him and Dimitrov went on to claim a first career victory over the man his style has so often been compared to 3-6 6-4 3-6 6-4 6-2.
It left tennis experts to go into full on meltdown as Federer refused to quit but his body clearly had.
The result also ends any hope of their being a Fedal final in New York but it does give Dimitrov the chance to finally win a grand slam title after years of trying.