Our countdown of the greatest US Open champions of the open era continues with #2: Roger Federer. #3-#5 was here.
2. Roger Federer
Accomplishments: Five straight titles, six straight finals
Signature Moment: 2004 final
No one has dominated the US Open like Roger Federer did between 2004 and 2008. His title reign at the US Open provided a treasure trove of memorable matches and spectacles of shot making alike.
The first such classic was his two day five set victory over Andre Agassi in hurricane force winds in 2004. Federer showed tremendous mental strength to edge the more experienced wind player in Agassi, as conditions for the final two sets were about as extreme as you will ever see in a tennis match.
The final he would play just three days later, after demolishing Tim Henman in a return and passing clinic in the semis, would be one of the most dominant displays ever produced on a tennis court. The man across the net was no slouch, as Lleyton Hewitt had not lost a set leading up to the finals and was in tremendous form. However, Federer started the match vaporizing forehands, and he would not look back, serving Hewitt two bagels and putting on one of the most impressive performances of all time.
Such a performance would last most players a lifetime, but Federer was just getting cooking in New York. He would once again defeat Agassi in a memorable four set final in 2005. The thirty five year old Agassi ran out of steam in the end, but he put forth a tremendous effort for three sets and forced Federer to raise his game to dizzying heights to pull out the victory after Agassi went up a break in the third.
In 2006, Federer was at the peak of his powers and produced an electric night session match with James Blake in the quarterfinals where both players were producing brilliant shotmaking and the crowd was on the edge of their seats. In the semis and finals, Federer would give clinics in how to play aggressive baseline tennis as he dismissed Nikolay Davydenko and then a rejuvenated Andy Roddick in the finals. Roddick put up a spirited fight in the middle two sets but was simply no match for Federer’s impenetrable baseline game and lost 6-1 in the fourth.
2007 was more of the same, as ‘Darth Federer’, clad in all black, once again helped produce a pair of electric night session matches. The first was against Feliciano Lopez playing the best tennis of his career, who forced Federer to have to play flawless tennis the last three sets to pull out a victory. The second was against Andy Roddick, who pushed Federer to his limits in the first two sets, forcing the Swiss to come up with pure magic (see below) to pull them out, before succumbing in the third.
Once again, Federer would dismiss Davydenko in the semis, and in the finals, he would play the first of five straight matches against Novak Djokovic on Arthur Ashe. Federer would win this one in straights, partly due to Djokovic’s nerves and partly due to his brilliant play at the very end of the second set (Federer did not miss a first serve the rest of the set after Djokovic had two set points), but this match would serve as a harbinger of things to come as Federer would see his throne under assault from the talented Serb starting from the very next grand slam.
When the 2008 US Open rolled around, Federer was in a state of complete disarray. While in the previous four years, he was the unquestioned number 1 in the world, in 2008 he had lost that mantle to Rafael Nadal as well as his Wimbledon crown and air of invincibility. The US Open was one of the most important grand slams of Federer’s career, both to show that Nadal did not yet have a complete stranglehold on the game and that Federer was still on pace to break Sampras’ grand slam record.
It was not easy, as in the fourth round, Igor Andreev had Federer on the ropes and looked to deal him yet another shocking loss in a year full of them. However, Federer fought tooth and nail to ultimately scratch out a five set win. Federer’s reactions after breaking in the fifth and after winning the match are pretty much the most animated you will ever see him and perfectly encapsulated how much this tournament meant to him.
From there, Federer found his game and produced scintillating tennis to dispatch Djokovic in the semis and Murray in the final. The King of Queens had, for one more year, held off his young challengers, in the process salvaging a disappointing season and lifting the trophy for an unprecedented fifth straight year.
2009 provided plenty of signature moments for Federer at the US Open. After all, who could forget the tweener against Djokovic in the semifinals to bring up match point, the tremendous running forehand pass in the first set of the final, or the classic Federer funhouse of delicious shotmaking he produced in the first two sets against Soderling?
He looked to be cruising in the final against Juan Martin del Potro, but the Argentine’s rocket launcher of a forehand and general fearlessness took Federer off kilter, and he would succumb in five sets, thus ending his run of US Open domination.
The picture hasn’t quite been as rosy since as Federer has made just one final, losing to Djokovic in 2015 and squandering nineteen break points in the process. There have been plenty of shock losses in the past eight years for Federer in New York and matches he maybe should have won, as he has never been able to regain his original prowess at the tournament. Nevertheless, he produced the best peak level of performance at the US Open, as no man in the open era has won more than three titles in a row, and will forever be regarded as a legend at the tournament, as he is everywhere around the world.
Anyways, given the roller coaster ride that Federer’s late career has been, would anyone be surprised if the great man captured that elusive sixth US Open title and went riding off into the sunset?