Five-time champion Federer beat 13th-seeded Jurgen Melzer of Austria 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-3 Monday night to reach the quarterfinals at a 26th Grand Slam tournament in a row and set up an intriguing matchup. Next up for the second-seeded Federer is No. 5 Robin Soderling, the man who ended his streak of 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals with an upset in this year's French Open quarterfinals.
"He's always been a dangerous player," Federer said in an on-court interview. "This is obviously a tough draw for me in the quarters, playing Robin."
With rock-star couple Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale sitting in his guest box Monday, and before a full house that included New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and actress Cameron Diaz, Federer delivered a crowd-pleasing performance that included 41 winners. Before heading to the locker room, Federer met Rodriguez for the first time.
"Haven't lost a set, so obviously, I'm very happy," Federer told the crowd. "It doesn't matter too much how you play, really. I'd love to play wonderful every time I come on the court. Guys make it tough. They play and make it the way you don't want it to be."
As if he needed any extra help, Federer got some from the net in the second-set tiebreaker, twice hitting balls that hit the tape and trickled over to end points.
"It's a pity that I didn't win at least one set. I think I deserved the second set. I think I was the more dangerous player," said Melzer, a semifinalist at this year's French Open. "You couldn't be more lucky in a tiebreaker than was in this tiebreaker."
The first net-cord point came at 1-1, when Federer hit a forehand approach shot as he moved forward. The ball danced along the top of the net before falling over. Melzer threw his head back in dismay. The second came at 4-4, off a forehand return, and Melzer wouldn't earn another point in that set.
When Federer, owner of a record 16 Grand Slam championships, smacked a cross-court forehand winner to close the tiebreaker, he screamed, "Come on!" — and Melzer looked up at his entourage and yelled, too.
"I wasn't happy with my fortune. Let's put it that way," Melzer said later.
Federer's take? "Tiebreakers are always crucial," he said.
Recovering quickly from that, Melzer broke serve to open the third set. But his 1-0 lead lasted only briefly, because Federer broke right back to 1-all, then again to go ahead 4-2.
Federer and Melzer, both 29, have known each other for more than a decade, and they even played doubles together as juniors. But they never faced off as professionals until this summer at Wimbledon, where they also played in the fourth round — and Federer also won in straight sets.
Looking ahead, Soderling said: "It's always a very nice feeling to play against the world's best. It's matches like that you train for. It's matches like that I've been dreaming of playing since I started playing tennis — playing at the big courts in the big tournaments. It's very fun."
Federer owns a 12-1 career record against Soderling, but that lone loss came in their most recent meeting, at Roland Garros on June 1. Before that, Federer had won 117 matches in a row — 117! — in the first five rounds at major tournaments, dating to a loss to Gustavo Kuerten in the third round at the French Open on May 29, 2004 (Federer advanced twice when opponents withdrew).
Federer has won 44 of his past 45 matches at the U.S. Open, the only defeat coming in last year's final against Juan Martin del Potro.
Soderling will try to hand Federer another rare loss.
"Well, I played him so many times; I know his game and he knows mine," Soderling said. "I'm pretty sure how I need to play to have a chance to win."