To Andy Roddick's credit, he played nearly flawlessly against Roger Federer, serving brilliantly, returning well, too, and giving tennis' top player a tough time. To Roddick's dismay, it all added up to yet another loss.
In a match as tight as could be for 2 1/2 sets Wednesday night, Federer was barely better on the most important points and emerged to edge Roddick 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4), 6-2 in the quarterfinals, moving two victories away from a fourth consecutive U.S. Open title.
"I'm not walking off with any questions in my head this time. I'm not walking with my head down," 2003 champion Roddick said after falling to 1-14 against Federer.
"I made him play as well as he can play."
Both came out wearing black shirts and shorts, Roddick adding a baseball cap, and Federer his trademark bandanna. The outfits matched and so did the level of play, right down until late in the third set, when Federer finally earned his first break points.
This rematch of last year's U.S. Open final was hardly the mismatch one might have expected.
"It was a very high-standard match. I was very pleased with my performance," Federer said. "I thought actually Andy also played very well."
That's for sure.
Banging serves consistently at 140 mph, Roddick hit 14 aces and didn't have a single double-fault. Then again, Federer came up with 15 aces, also never double-faulted, and erased the only break point he faced, in the second set.
Both played remarkably cleanly, combining for 90 winners (48 for Federer) and only 42 unforced errors (18 for Federer).
It was riveting stuff, even if the score showed it ended in straight sets, and was the second half of a double feature in Arthur Ashe Stadium that began with Venus Williams coming back from a set and a break down to beat No. 3 Jelena Jankovic 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (4). That put two-time U.S. Open champion Williams in her first semifinal at Flushing Meadows since 2002, and she now meets No. 1 Justine Henin, the player who eliminated Serena Williams.
In the other women's semifinal Friday, 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova will face No. 6 Anna Chakvetadze.
No. 1 Federer vs. No. 5 Roddick came down to those two tiebreakers.
With Federer ahead 5-4 in the first one, Roddick smacked a 130 mph serve that Federer got back. Roddick charged the net behind a good approach shot, but Federer flicked a cross-court backhand passing winner, leaving the American cursing.
At 6-5, Federer hit a 122 mph ace and slowly punched the air to celebrate while Roddick muttered to himself.
It was almost the same in the second tiebreaker. At 4-4, Roddick unleashed a 140 mph serve, and Federer conjured up a backhand return that put the ball right at the opposite baseline. Roddick couldn't handle it, and two points later, Federer's 128 mph service winner put him ahead by two sets — and sent many in the partisan crowd streaming for the exits.
How different things could have been.
As Federer noted, matter-of-factly: "I could have been down two sets to none."
Federer earned his first break point all evening at 3-2 in the third set. Roddick erased the first with the help of a fortuitous net-cord bounce, and he laughed a bit at his luck while trudging back to the baseline. Seconds later, his expression was far more downcast as he missed a backhand long, for the first break by either player.
Federer broke again to end the match and extend his own record by getting to a 14th consecutive Grand Slam semifinal. That's where he will meet No. 4 Nikolay Davydenko — against whom Federer is 9-0.
"I've got a pretty good record against him. Never lost," Federer said. "But let's not get ahead of ourselves."
Well, let's, if only for a moment. Should he defeat Davydenko on Saturday, Federer would add to another of his own records by making a 10th straight major final. And a victory Sunday would not only make Federer the first man since the 1920s to win the American Grand Slam four years running, it would give him 12 Grand Slam titles overall — only Pete Sampras, with 14, won more.
Does Roddick feel a bit sorry for himself, given that he happened to be born almost exactly a year after the man who may very well go down as the greatest tennis player in history?
"No," he said. "I get to play in atmospheres like that."
Well, does Roddick think he can beat Federer?
"Yeah," he said. "If I didn't, I wouldn't be out here."
He looked good early. In the match's fourth game, Roddick turned it up a notch, pounding an ace at 140 mph, a service winner at 142 mph and delivering another serve at 146 mph. Remarkably, Federer put that last one in play, an indication of just how talented a returner he is.
Roddick serve-and-volleyed at times, even on a second serve, and covered the net well, early, winning the point on six of his first eight trips forward.
All the while, his coach, five-time U.S. Open winner Jimmy Connors, sat in the front row of a guest box in a jacket and blue tie, occasionally offering encouraging yells or claps, at other times gnawing on his fingernails.
Roddick got plenty of support from a partisan sellout crowd of 23,733, a celebrity-specked audience that included Andre Agassi, the eight-time major champion who returned to the scene for the first time since retiring after last year's Open.
The electricity on this night, and the two tiebreakers, brought back memories of Agassi's four-tiebreaker quarterfinal loss to Sampras in the 2001 Open. Neither player lost serve once that night.
Agassi sat in the TV booth for USA Network, offering insights. When Roddick stared down Federer and bellowed after a 138 mph ace to get to 4-4 in the first set, Agassi said: "There's a fine line between getting pumped up, and waking a sleeping giant, I assure you."
Sure enough, when it mattered the most, Federer was wide awake.
"I know that I have a big repertoire of shots and things I can choose from," Federer said. "I'm happy the way I'm maintaining this great ability of coming up with the important wins when I have to. I'm at my best always at the Slams."