MASON, Ohio — In their 31st career meeting, Rafael Nadal came back from a set down Friday night to defeat defending champion Roger Federer 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 to advance to the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open. The win extends Nadal’s hard-court streak to 13 wins, while the loss will drop Federer to No. 7 in the ATP rankings next week, his lowest ranking in more than 11 years.
Federer rebounded from a poor match against Tommy Haas in the third round to come out firing against his old rival. Federer’s serve and forehand were clicking early as Nadal struggled to get into his service games. Federer played his best tennis in nearly three months in the first set, as he held his serve easily and finally broke Nadal to set up the win. Nadal, who hasn’t lost a match on a hard court in 2013, wrenched back control of the match in the second set and then cruised in the third, racing to a 3-0 lead and holding on for the win.
Nadal said the key to the turnaround was his ability to find the right return position on Federer’s serve, and as the match wore on he was able to find his rhythm on his forehand. “I think my movement starts to be better, more intens[e],” Nadal said. “I started to put more balls inside on the return, and I started to have more … control of the ball from the baseline with my forehand, something that didn’t happen the first set and a half. But the match was there. It was very close. He had a good chance in the second. I think I played a good few points in important moments.”
Nadal credited Federer’s aggressive play for causing him problems. “He played very aggressive, [took] the ball very early all the time,” Nadal said. “I just felt a little bit slow at the beginning, and it was very difficult to find my rhythm. But I will repeat: It’s because Roger did a lot of things very well.” Nadal will face No. 6 Tomas Berdych in Saturday’s semifinal, after Berdych defeated Andy Murray 6-3, 6-4.
As for Federer, it was a confidence-boosting loss. Coming into the match Federer had yet to find his best form since winning a grass court tournament in Halle, Germany in June. Conventional wisdom was that he would be no match for an in-form Nadal, who won the Rogers Cup in Montreal, Canada last week. “I mean, not totally unhappy about the match,” Federer said. “I could have played a bit better, but at times I think I was playing well and tactics were working.”
With the U.S. Open just 10 days away, Federer said his body has responded well through eight sets of tennis this week and he goes into New York in a positive state of mind. He dismissed any concern about his ranking, adding that he’s more concerned about finding his best tennis in time for the last Slam of the year. “I know my body’s fine and my mind’s OK, so that’s two good things looking ahead.”
“I’m happy with my progress along the way,” Federer continued. “Could have won tonight, should have won tonight, who knows? But at the end, I think Rafa’s confidence and the way he’s playing at the moment got him through. So for me, I think it was a good step in the right direction. My mind’s already totally geared into what I’m going to do tomorrow, next day and the following day, and, you know, looking ahead at the U.S. Open. So I’m excited about the next sort of 10 days.”