Roger Federer can again move within one step of elusive Grand Slam title number 18 when he takes on fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka in the semifinals of the U.S. Open. The 34-year-old has sauntered through to the final four without losing a set as he seeks to win his first Major title since 2012. Victory on Friday would also give him his first final at Flushing Meadows in six years, and a meeting with either Novak Djokovic or Marin Cilic.
He will start as the undoubted favorite to progress, yet the presence of Cilic will provide a potent reminder of the dangers of taking anything for granted. A year ago, Federer entered his semifinal match against the Croatian with many ready to pencil in his name not only in the final but, following Djokovic’s exit earlier in the day, on the trophy itself. Instead, Federer fell flat in a straight-sets exit.
Yet he enters this semifinal in very different circumstances. While 12 months ago he was coming off the back of a five-set thriller against Gael Monfils, this time around there has been no such drama, and his energy has been crucially conserved.
His opponent, though, cannot be taken lightly. Wawrinka did little to suggest he was a serious contender for the crown through the early rounds of the tournament, but he hugely impressed in taking down big-serving South African Kevin Anderson in straight sets in the quarterfinals. Once again the 30-year-old is suggesting that he is ready to raise his game for the latter stages of a Grand Slam. It was at last year’s Australian Open that he made a huge breakthrough by landing his first Major title, beating Djokovic and Rafael Nadal en route. And, he has since proved that it was far more than merely a two-week hot-streak, landing his second Major at this year’s French Open.
Again he delivered his best against the sport’s elite, including blasting his way past Federer in straights sets in the quarterfinals. It may have been just his third win in 19 meetings against the man with whom he shares a close friendship and a fitness trainer, but Wawrinka feels they now both enter their clashes with a very different mindset.
“I think now we both nervous when we enter the court,” he said after beating Anderson. “Before it was only me. I was nervous because I knew I wasn't at his level, for sure. And now I think we can see that he was also nervous every time we play each other the past few years. That's a big difference, because that shows how much he knows that I can play at his level, how much he knows that I can try to play my game and not just try to react about what he's doing.”
In the first semifinal on Friday, defending champion Cilic will be aiming to follow Wawrinka in proving that he is no one-Slam wonder. After what has been a difficult year, disrupted at the start by injury, the 26-year-old has found form back at the scene of his great triumph and beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in five sets in the quarterfinals.He has admitted, though, that his next task is the “toughest” he could face.
The man on the other side of the net is attempting to become just the third player in the Open era to reach the final of all four Grand Slam titles in a single year. And, although Djokovic’s hopes of joining Serena Williams in going for a calendar-year Grand Slam were dashed by Wawrinka in final of the French Open, he has been the clear dominant player of 2015.
He has also been utterly dominant when going up against Cilic. In 13 previous meetings, Djokovic has won on every occasion. Yet, while confident, Djokovic is wary of his opponent’s fondness for Flushing Meadows.
“He won his first Grand Slam title last year in New York, he hasn't lost a match, you know, 12, 13 matches in a row, so I'm sure that he feels confident. He won today a really close match. A couple of five-setters he had already in this tournament. He has a big serve. I think around 30 aces he had today, so the serve gets him out of trouble.
“I know what to do, and I'm opening I can execute the game plan obviously and play my best.”
Schedule: Djokovic vs. Cilic is set to begin at 5 p.m. EDT, with Federer vs. Wawrinka to follow after its conclusion.
TV channel: ESPN