New York: The most pivotal part of Roger Federer’s US Open victory over Nick Kyrgios, both men agreed, came all of 17 minutes in, when the 20-time major champion was serving at 3-all, love-40 and got out of the jam.
The most spectacular part? That came, anyone who saw it surely would agree, much later. It was the on-a-full-sprint, drop-shot-retrieving, flick-from-a-few-inches-off-the-ground, forehand-around-the-net-post, jaw-dropping winner that Federer conjured up a few games from the conclusion of the 6-4, 6-1, 7-5 tour de force in the third round on Saturday.
“Almost unreal,” said Kyrgios, who admired the bit of racket wizardry with eyes wide open and mouth agape.
“A special one, no doubt about it,” declared Federer, who put it up there among his greatest hits, which, considering who we’re talking about, is certainly saying something.
There’s no rule mandating that the ball travel over the net for a shot to count, but Federer pointed out that this was not the sort of thing he can try in practice, mainly because there isn’t as much room to run wide of the court as in a big arena like Arthur Ashe Stadium, so “you will be running into a fence.”
Much was made of Kyrgios’ previous match, in which chair umpire Mohammad Lahyani climbed out of his seat to have a chat with the 23-year-old player about whether he was giving his best effort while trailing by a set and a break. Kyrgios went on to win, Lahyani was chastised by the US Tennis Association for breaching “protocol” but allowed to continue officiating at the tournament.
This time, of course, Kyrgios received no sort of counsel during the match other than all the muttering, at various volumes, he directed at himself. He doesn’t have a coach and wondered aloud, during the latest in a long line of news conferences that sound more like therapy sessions, whether he should add one — or perhaps someone who could help with the mental aspect of the game.
Federer alluded to one particularly questionable choice Kyrgios made at 5-all, 40-15 in the final set, when he went for a drop shot that found the net instead of simply hitting a normal forehand into the open court.
“Clearly,” Federer said, “when you play that way and you lose, it’s always, like, you feel like he’s so much to blame. But that’s just how he plays.”
It’s most pronounced in the women’s field, where 10 of the top 13 seeds already are gone as first week came to an end. No. 4 Angelique Kerber and No. 5 Petra Kvitova — owners of a combined five Grand Slam titles — exited Saturday, both at Louis Armstrong Stadium, the same new arena where No. 1 Simona Halep and No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki were beaten earlier in the tournament.
Over in Ashe at night, five-time major champion Maria Sharapova eliminated No. 10 Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 6-2. No. 6 Caroline Garcia and No. 13 Kiki Bertens also lost, while 2017 runner-up Madison Keys came back to beat Aleksandra Krunic 4-6, 6-1, 6-2.
At night, 13-time major champion Novak Djokovic easily beat No. 26 Richard Gasquet 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 in Ashe, while 2014 US Open title winner Marin Cilic met 19-year-old Alex de Minaur in Armstrong in the day’s last match.