NEW YORK – Roger Federer edged 130th-ranked qualifier Gilles Muller 7-6 (5), 6-4, 7-6 (5) at the U.S. Open on Thursday to reach the semifinals for the 18th consecutive Grand Slam tournament.
It was Federer's 32nd victory in a row at Flushing Meadows, where he has won the past four championships.
Bidding for a 13th Grand Slam title, which would move him one short of Pete Sampras' record, Federer will next meet No. 3 Novak Djokovic of Serbia, who rallied to beat 2003 champion Andy Roddick of the United States 6-2, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5).
Two points from forcing a fifth set at 5-4 in the fourth, No. 8 Roddick double-faulted twice in a row and was broken for the fifth time — twice more than he lost serve in his first four matches combined.
Djokovic and Federer's meeting will be a rematch of last year's U.S. Open final, which Federer won. Djokovic is 2-6 against Federer and called him the "absolute favorite."
Despite playing a man who never before was past the third round at a major event, Federer had some trouble with Muller. He wasted six set points in the opener but closed it out on his seventh chance when Muller missed a backhand volley. Federer only went 1-for-11 on break-point chances.
"Today was particularly difficult — the sun, the wind, and he's been serving great," Federer told the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd. "I didn't get that many opportunities."
No other man has played in more than 10 major semifinals in a row.
Saturday's other men's semifinal will be top-ranked Rafael Nadal of Spain vs. British No. 6 Andy Murray.
In the women's semifinals Friday, two-time champion Serena Williams will face Russia's Dinara Safina, and Jelena Jankovic Serbia will meet Russian Elena Dementieva. One of the four will move up to No. 1 in the rankings after the tournament.
Federer spent a record 237 consecutive weeks atop the men's rankings from February 2004 until last month, when Nadal supplanted him. That's only one of the streaks Federer has seen snapped this year.
He reached a record 10 consecutive major finals, until losing to Djokovic in the Australian Open semifinals in January. He won a record-tying five consecutive Wimbledon titles, until losing a 9-7 fifth set to Rafael Nadal in near-darkness in July. He was seeded No. 1 at 18 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments until Nadal relegated him to No. 2 at this one.
"There's a lot at stake for him, obviously, as far as, you know, not having won a major this year and losing a No. 1 ranking. So he seems to be obviously very focused and is playing better," said Patrick McEnroe, the U.S. Davis Cup captain who is coaching Roddick at the Open.
"I don't think he's playing quite at the level that he was in the last couple years," McEnroe added, "but he's certainly capable of turning it around."
Federer did exactly that in the final tiebreaker against Muller, the only man from Luxembourg to enter a major tennis tournament.
Trailing 4-1, Federer took six of the final seven points, including a cross-court backhand passing shot to get to match point. It was the sort of brilliant stroke Federer often produces, but he marked this one with a loud shout of "Come on!"
When Muller put a backhand into the net on the next point, the tighter-than-expected match was over and Federer finally could smile.
Djokovic was angered by comments Roddick made this week after the Serb called for the trainer more than once as he dealt with hip, ankle, stomach and breathing issues in a five-set ordeal Tuesday against No. 15 Tommy Robredo of Spain.
Asked then about Djokovic's problems, Roddick jokingly asked whether the list shouldn't also include bird flu, anthrax, SARS and a common cold, adding: "He's either quick to call a trainer or he's the most courageous guy of all time."
Roddick also said in an on-court interview that day: "I've got to feel good. He's got about 16 injuries right now."
After beating Roddick, ending the match with a 125 mph serve that drew a long return, Djokovic made reference to those comments.
"That's not nice anyhow to say in front of this crowd that I have 16 injuries and that I'm faking," Djokovic said during a postmatch interview that drew boos from the spectators in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
"They're already against me, because they think I'm faking everything."