It’s one round away.
For years, US Open fans have waited for Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to match up on the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. They have played four times at the Australian Open, five times at the French Open, three times at Wimbledon and on 20 occasions in Masters 1000 events.
But never have they met at America’s Grand Slam, the one void in one of the greatest rivalries in tennis history.
That could be rectified with two Wednesday wins. A victory for Nadal over Russian teenager Andrey Rublev and a win for Federer against 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro, and finally, the two titans of the men’s game – the men who stand at No. 1 and No. 2 all-time in Grand Slam singles titles and the two best men’s players of this and perhaps any century – will finally play at the US Open.
Of course, throwing cold water on the hopes and dreams of tennis fans around the world has been their history in New York. On five occasions, Federer and Nadal have stood just one round away from facing each other, only for one to advance and the other to fall.
Here’s a closer look at the Federer-Nadal near misses at the US Open:
The 2008 US Open marked the first of four consecutive tournaments in which both Federer and Nadal reached the semifinals here. In the first of these, it was Andy Murray who spoiled the matchup of No. 1 versus No. 2, defeating Nadal in four sets to oust the top seed, who was playing in his first US Open semifinal. Second-seeded Federer, meantime, held up his end of the bargain, beating Novak Djokovic in four sets en route to the title match, where he straight-setted Murray for the last of his five consecutive men’s singles titles.
The 2009 US Open proved an even bigger stunner than the year before. Once again, Federer defeated Djokovic in the semifinals, but it was a 20-year-old Juan Martin del Potro who would steal the show. The towering Argentine whipped Nadal in straight sets in the semis and then outlasted Federer in five sets in the final for his first – and to date, only – Grand Slam triumph.
After years of falling just short in New York, Nadal finally broke through in 2010, dismissing surprise semifinalist Mikhail Youzhny to reach his first US Open men’s singles final. But once again, the Open was denied a Nadal-Fed showdown, as Djokovic finally broke through against the Swiss, saving two match points to defeat Federer in a memorable five-setter. Nadal would go on to defeat Djokovic in four sets for his first Open crown.
The 2011 US Open played out in similar fashion to 2010. Once again, Nadal emerged, defeating Murray in four sets to advance to the final for the second consecutive year. And once again he was joined there by Djokovic, who had again saved two match points to defeat Federer in a five-set semifinal classic. This time, Djokovic would finish the job, topping Nadal in four sets for his first US Open men’s singles championship.
Federer had fallen to the seventh seed for the 2013 US Open, setting up a potential quarterfinal against the second-seeded Nadal. Both advanced cleanly to the round of 16. There, the Spaniard played first and came through in four sets over No. 22 seed Philipp Kohlschreiber.
Federer, meantime, was going up against No. 19 seed Tommy Robredo, a player against whom the five-time champ sported a 10-0 lifetime record, having dropped just three of 25 sets the two had previously played. Adding to Fed’s favored status, Robredo was 0-7 in his career in US Open fourth-round matches, while Federer had won nine in a row at Flushing Meadows in the same round.
But Robredo played inspired tennis on that night, shocking Federer in straight sets. Nadal would easily dispatch his countryman in the next round, dropping just four games over three sets, en route to his second US Open title.