NEW YORK (Reuters) - The man for all occasions, Roger Federer provided a masterful demonstration of skill and precision in gale-force winds to breeze into the fourth round of the U.S. Open on Saturday.
On a day when the swirling gusts teased and tormented the world’s best players, the Swiss master showed exactly how and why he has been able to overcome the obstacles to win 16 grand slam titles on all surfaces and conditions in beating Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-4 6-3 6-3.
“I kind of felt comfortable,” Federer said. “I knew what I could do and what I couldn’t do.”
Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki also blew their opponents off the court to set up a dream fourth-round meeting at a championship bereft of surprises but bubbling toward a grand finish next week.
The pair showed no mercy against their lower-ranked rivals, each romping to victory in 73 minutes despite being involved in some farcical moments thrown up by the conditions.
Sharapova was aced by American teenager Beatrice Capra when taking an undignified swing at a ball swept out of her reach by a gust of wind.
Wozniacki was gifted a winner after a seemingly harmless forehand bounced over the head of Chan Yung-Jan and into the stands.
Serving was a lottery as players were often forced to re-toss, while umbrellas, towels and litter blew around the court and forced several points to be replayed.
For most of the top players, the wild weather made no difference to their results and Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling joined Federer, Sharapova and Wozniacki by winning in straight sets.
The lone major casualty was Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic, a finalist in New York two years ago and the fourth seed this time.
She was beaten 6-2 7-6 by Kaia Kanepi of Estonia after enduring the worst of the conditions. On one of her serves, Jankovic only managed to catch the ball with the frame of her racket.
“I had a really hard time hitting the balls,” said Jankovic, the highest-seeded player beaten at Flushing Meadows this year. “You hit the ball one direction, it goes another. You’re just getting ready to hit the ball and it just moves away from you.”
Sharapova was at her most ruthless in her 6-0 6-0 whitewash of wildcard Capra.
The Russian was upset here last year by another American teenager in Melanie Oudin, but made sure there was no repeat this time as she moved into the last 16 for the first time since she won the championship four years ago.
“This was a new day. What happened last year, I didn’t really want to go into the match thinking about it,” Sharapova said.
“On a day like today, I just wanted to make sure I was consistent and did the right thing, maybe didn’t go for the lines as much and just played smart tennis.”
Sharapova was one of three Russian seeds to advance safely on Saturday. Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 2004 U.S. Open champion, beat her countrywoman Maria Kirilenko, while Wimbledon finalist Vera Zvonareva defeated Romania’s Alexandra Dulgheru.
Wozniacki dropped her opening service game against Chan but that was her only hiccup in the 6-1 6-0 rout of her Taiwanese opponent.
A finalist at Flushing Meadows 12 months ago and the top seed this year after injury forced Serena Williams to sit out, the Dane has dropped only three games in the tournament.
“I think I’ve shown I belong where I am,” she said. “I’m just happy to be through to the fourth round. For me, it’s just about winning the matches.”
After a slow start to the tournament, Djokovic and Soderling are both rapidly gaining momentum.
Djokovic had few problems seeing off American James Blake 6-1 7-6 6-3 in the featured night match while the big-serving Soderling was also untroubled by the conditions, cruising to a 6-2 6-3 6-3 win against Dutchman Thiemo de Bakker.
Djokovic’s next opponent is American Mardy Fish, who made his way through to the round of 16 the hard way, wearing down Frenchman Arnaud Clement 4-6 6-3 6-4 1-6 6-3.
Soderling plays Spain’s Albert Montanes ahead of a possible quarter-final with Federer.
“Everybody has been telling me since the draw came out that I’m going against Roger in the quarters,” said Soderling. “I still have to win one more match so it’s still far ahead.”
Editing by Ian Ransom