September 4, 2018
Roger Federer served like a novice and looked hopelessly jaded as he succumbed to the magnificent John Millman.
Of course, it helps if you can breathe in fresh air and stay cool.
The normally super-cool Federer found he couldn’t do either when it mattered.
The favourite couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t stop sweating and he couldn’t stop making mistakes.
‘It was just one of those nights when I couldn’t get air. There was no circulation. It was very uncomfortable and I was sweating more and more, and then the mistakes came too.
‘Maybe John handled the conditions better, coming from one of the most humid places, Brisbane.’
Federer’s suffering explained some of the 77 unforced errors, but maybe not the ten double faults and terrible serving in general.
Let’s face it, no one gave the Australian a chance. But then no one thought the world’s greatest ever player would struggle to land a first serve.
He is usually so efficient. And Federer needed to be, in order to stay fresh for the big quarter-final challenge against Novak Djokovic.
Maybe that was also part of the problem. Millman was supposed to be a formality before the much-anticipated match against a fellow giant.
The underdog had never beaten a top ten player before. That’s why he was only ranked 55.
But when Federer looped a forehand long to hand Millman glory on the third of five match point opportunities, the gutsy Aussie simply took off his cap and walked to the net as though he had achieved nothing special at all.
Make no mistake, he had shown superb movement, aggression and determination to stay in the fight then overcome the master.
‘Somehow I got out of the second set and then I was able to become more aggressive,’ said Millman.
Federer was 4-2 ahead in the second, having won the first. It was the same story in the third. Had he taken his set point opportunities, he would have won in three.
So we can’t entirely put this down to the stifling conditions. There was something about Federer’s mental approach that wasn’t right either.
In the second game of the second set, he landed just six of 24 first serves in a 14-minute marathon that Roger eventually won anyway.
Did the conditions really undermine so many first serves as the match wore on? Could they?
Or was it the spectre of Djokovic, his recent conqueror, who was making life equally difficult?
Did Federer’s 37 years come into play against Millman’s 29? Maybe so.
But broadly speaking we must take Roger at his word, and accept that Millman’s 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (9-7), 7-6 (7-3) victory owed much to the oppressive heat and humidity.
Another huge name, Maria Sharapova, was also a casualty, as she lost in straight sets to the clinical Carla Suarez Navarro, ending a promising run at Flushing Meadows.
And the taking of huge scalps probably isn’t over, if the usual drama of Grand Slam tennis is anything to go by.
The only shock is that we are still shocked by any result in our sport.
But Federer had looked so good. He had played “that shot” around the net in the previous match.
Alas, his magic has gone for another Grand Slam year.
It’s a shame for those of us who were already licking our lips at the prospect of a first Grand Slam showdown between Federer and Djokovic for more than two years.
And even more of a shame for the punter who accepted odds so heavily weighed in Federer’s favour that he needed to bet $35,000 in order to try to make $700 profit in addition to his huge outlay.
So Federer probably wasn’t the only poor soul sweating profusely as the favourite’s evening began to unravel.
Fortunately, Federer at least will want to try his luck again at Wimbledon 2019.
And despite a record-breaking British summer for hot sunshine in 2018, Federer knows he will be unlikely to encounter anything quite so severe in London as the night sweats that did for him in New York.