For a moment there all seemed lost for Roger Federer, but he managed to come back from losing the first two sets against Gael Monfils and reach the US Open semifinal for the first time in three years. Marin Cilic is next, and there’s probably a Novak Djokovic battle waiting for him in the potential final. However, the world’s greatest living Tennis player is still on the right path to make it an 18th Grand Slam victory.
There’s a reason Gael Monfils, for all of his talent, has never been really close to winning a Grand Slam tournament. Semifinals at the French Open are his best work. It has something to do with his ability to cope when things don’t go his way. Sure, he has the reflexes and creativity to pull off some impossible shots only he can. But there’s no substance when the going gets tough, and once Roger Federer took control of the match, all Monfisl could do was do things he knew were entertaining, but had no chance of bringing him back into play.
Federer survived two match points and was able to break Monfils’ serve, something that has happened only five times in this tournament. At some point, his own frustrations with the wind, the surprising Monfils and the umpire, all went away. Federer’s forehand stopped flailing the ball in all directions, the serves looked better and he took control of the volley game, as Monfils, maybe with a bum ankle, stopped taking adventurous trips to the net, staying along the baseline. That’s when Federer had him.
With Djokovic pulling off a remarkable victory over Andy Murray to hit the semifinals, this wasn’t the kind of performance Federer needed to fill himself with confidence. Sure, coming back from two-sets down for the 8th time in his career does serve as a big momentum boost and the belief that everything is possible. But Federer needed a more complete, mistake-free performance to convince not just the fans and viewers but also his next rival(s) that he’s not leaving New York without his hand on the trophy.
Before there’s Djokovic (or maybe Nishikori) to worry about, there’s Marin Cilic. He is perfect, 5-0, against Marin Cilic. They’ve already met this season and Cilic gave Federer plenty of problems, taking one set away before succuming in a third during the Toronto Masters. They’ve also clashed in the 2011 US Open, and Cilic was able to take away one set before losing 3-1.
The past and overall review of both players’ during this season says Federer shall overcome this, even if Cilic is serving well, which is something Monfils had going for him too. But there’s Federer’s age and ability in major tournaments in recent years – Winning just one out of the last 18. He’s vulnerable, and there is a limit on comebacks one can pull of this late in a tournament.
This is Federer’s first semifinal appearance in the tournament since 2011. He lost to Tomas Berdych in 2012 (quarterfinals) and to Robredo (fourth round) last year. In 2010 and 2011 he lost to Novak Djokovic in the semifinal. In 2011 he dropped a 2-0 lead. Match points were given to him too and he messed that up. A lot of things have happened since. Federer has ability on his side, but he needs consistency, health and maybe a little bit of luck to stick by his side a few days longer in order to complete his mission.