CINCINNATI (Reuters) - World number one Novak Djokovic and number two Andy Murray crashed out of the Western and Southern Open within an hour of each other on Friday, before Rafa Nadal restored order with a win over old rival Roger Federer.
With the sprawling Lindner Family Tennis Center still buzzing over John Isner’s 7-6 (5) 3-6 7-5 quarter-final upset of Djokovic, another bombshell dropped on the nearby grandstand court as Tomas Berdych swept past U.S. Open champion Murray 6-3 6-4, creating shockwaves that will carry through to Flushing Meadows.
The upsets of two of the grand slam’s biggest favorites have thrown the tournament wide open and added new contenders to the usual suspects.
But world number three Nadal underlined his claims by taming Swiss arch-rival and five-times Cincinnati champion Federer 5-7 6-4 6-3.
Federer and Nadal, meeting for the 31st time in their storied careers, treated the packed centre court to high-quality tennis that had some convinced that the Swiss maestro, winner of a record 17 grand slams and the muscular Spaniard, 12-time grand slam champion, were still the two top players in the world.
While the rankings say otherwise, there has been little better tennis seen on centre court this week, and the pair proved they are still capable of bringing out the best in each other.
Nadal arrived in Cincinnati after sealing the Montreal title and seemingly at the top of his hardcourt game, but it was Federer, struggling with a sore back and searching for form, that produced the more inspired display in the opening set.
“I’m happy with my progress along the way,” said Federer, who will drop to world number seven next week, his lowest ranking in nearly 11 years.
“Could have won tonight, should have won tonight.
“But at the end, I think Rafa’s confidence and the way he’s playing at the moment got him through.”
Playing his first event on the North American hardcourts since Indian Wells in March, Federer took the first set when he broke Nadal with a classic forehand and held serve.
But as the match wore on Nadal’s hardcourt form began to shine.
The Spaniard took the only break of the second to level the match then kept the pressure on by breaking at the first opportunity in the third on the way to extending his hardcourt winning streak to 13 matches.
“Always the emotions are there when we play each other,” said Nadal, who will face Berdych in Saturday’s semi-finals. “But the emotions in the final are always more special than when you’re playing quarter-finals.”
In a heavyweight matchup featuring two of the game’s big-hitters, it was Isner who topped Djokovic after a slugfest lasting two hours and 23 minutes. The towering American will face Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro in the last four.
Djokovic, a four-time runner-up on the Cincinnati hardcourts, had been eager to take the final step this year and become the first player to complete what the ATP Tour has dubbed the ‘Career Golden Masters’ by winning all nine World Tour Masters titles.
But U.S. number one Isner, ranked 22 in the world, has been in good form on hardcourt surfaces with a win in Atlanta and a runner-up finish in Washington.
“I was putting the ball on the court and I was feeling good off the baseline, I felt like, when I had a chance. I played aggressively,” said Isner. “I think I was able to put a little bit of pressure on him.”
Murray said he struggled to come to grips with the fast surface but the sixth-seeded Berdych was always going to represent a tricky test for the Wimbledon champion with the Czech holding a 5-4 advantage in head-to-head meetings.
The Scot, a two-time winner in Cincinnati, had just four breakpoint chances against Berdych and failed to convert them all.
“You know, the things that I really need to do well - serving, returning, moving - that was good,” said Murray. “But I’ll need to work on my groundstrokes a bit, make sure I’m not making too many mistakes going into the U.S. Open.”
Del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, continued to sharpen his hardcourt game before heading to Flushing Meadows, beating Russian Dmitry Tursunov 6-4 3-6 6-1.
Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes / Ian Ransom