Federer blames lack of confidence after shock US Open defeat against Spain's Robredo
Swiss legend is defeated in straight sets as poor run of form continues and he misses the chance to face rival Nadal in first US Open match-up
The long awaited, first-ever US Open match-up between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will have to wait at least another year after Federer was bundled out in a shock fourth-round loss.
Surrounded by a half-dozen tournament security guards, Federer made the long, slow trek across the US Open grounds from the court in Louis Armstrong Stadium to the locker room in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The hour was a little past 8pm local time, one week to the day before the men's final is scheduled to be played in Flushing Meadows, and Federer was once again heading home far earlier than he is used to doing at grand slam time.
The words he spoke after his surprisingly straightforward 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, 6-4 loss to 19th-seeded Tommy Robredo made it sound as though he is having doubts about his game. "Confidence ... takes care of all the things you don't usually think about," Federer said. "But it's been a difficult last three months. My consistency is just not quite there."
This caps a poor grand slam season for Federer, whose record collection of 17 major trophies includes five in a row at the US Open from 2004-08.
This is the first season since 2002 that Federer did not reach at least one final at any of the four grand slam tournaments.
That year also marked the last time Federer was ranked lower than he is now at No7.
He exited in the semi-finals at the Australian Open in January, the quarter-finals at the French Open in early June and the second round of Wimbledon - against a player ranked 116th, to boot - in late June.
That ended Federer's record run of reaching at least the quarter-finals at 36 consecutive grand slam tournaments. Now, thanks to Robredo, Federer has a new, unwanted streak - two consecutive losses before the quarter-finals at majors.
This time, the early exit prevented Federer from meeting rival Nadal in the round of eight at Flushing Meadows, where they have never played each other.
In an interview the day before the tournament began, Nadal spoke about how he and Federer "deserved a final here", the way they met in four title matches at the French Open, three at Wimbledon and one at the Australian Open. Nadal won six of those eight, part of an overall 21-10 head-to-head edge.
Nadal reiterated that sentiment after beating 22nd-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany 6-7 (4-7), 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 in the fourth round at Flushing Meadows.
"Didn't happen. [That doesn't] mean cannot happen in the future. We'll see. Hopefully," the 27-year-old Nadal said of a US Open showdown with the 32-year-old Federer.
"But it is true that we are getting older, so the chances are less today than five years ago."
While Federer has been known in the past to chalk up poor performances to a bothersome back or bad weather, this time he kept uttering phrases that were critical of his own play against Robredo, against whom he'd previously won 10 matches without loss.
"I struggled throughout, which is not very satisfying, to be honest," Federer said. "I kind of feel like I beat myself. I kind of self-destructed, which is very disappointing."
Perhaps trying to convince himself as much as others, Federer tried to offer a positive outlook toward the end of his news conference.
"I've definitely got to go back to work and come back stronger. Get rid of this loss now as quick as I can, forget about it, because that's not how I want to play from here on," he said. "I want to play better. I know I can."
Robredo has been ranked as high as No5, albeit back in 2006, and this is his seventh trip to the quarter-finals at a major. But he had been 0-7 in the US Open's fourth round.
Against Federer, he managed to win only three of the 27 previous sets they'd played.
"Roger, when he was No1, [compared] to the Roger right now," Robredo said, "he's not maybe [playing] with the same confidence, no?"
Federer was particularly ineffective when he had chances on Robredo's serve.
Time and again, he would get an opening, a chance to begin the long climb back into the match.
And he kept letting those opportunities slip by.
"We all know the way he plays, how easy he can do everything," Robredo said. "But I think the difference today was the break points conversion."
Soaked with perspiration, Federer mis-hit a backhand to waste the last of five break points he had in the fourth game of what turned out to be the final set of the match.
He kicked the offending ball, a rare sign of frustration from the generally unflappable Federer.
"The story of my life," Federer said afterwards. "When I lose, people are shell-shocked to see me play this way."