NEW YORK – Roger Federer said he only had himself to blame after his agonising five-set loss to Novak Djokovic in the U.S. Open semi-finals on Saturday.
Djokovic saved two match points when Federer was serving for a spot in the final, the first with a sizzling cross-court winner and the second when the Swiss maestro clipped the net cord with a forehand that sailed out.
Re-energised after his lucky escape, Djokovic reeled off the last four games to win 6-7 6-4 6-3 6-2 7-5, leaving Federer to contemplate his misfortune in an epic clash that he might just as easily have won.
“Sure, it’s disappointing, but I have only myself to blame,” said Federer. “I set it all up perfect, but I couldn’t finish it.”
Federer cut a lonely figure as he trudged off the Arthur Ashe Stadium court where he had won the U.S. Open five times before. If he wins another, he will be the first man to win six title at Flushing Meadows since the game turned professional in 1968, but that is no longer a foregone conclusion.
Now 30 and no longer the dominant force he was, Federer won the last of his record 16 grand slam titles at the Australian Open in 2010.
This year marks the first time he has gone through a season without winning a grand slam since he won his first major at Wimbledon in 2003.
“I definitely had some serious chances to do a bit better, and I still made, what was it, semis (Australian Open), finals (French Open), quarters (Wimbledon), semis (U.S. Open)?,” he said. “But I think in a few of them I could have gone all the way, if not a step or two further.”
The road ahead is unlikely to get easier for Federer, who has slipped to number three in the world rankings behind Djokovic and Rafa Nadal, who are both younger than him.
But for a while on Saturday it was like old times for the father of two, winning the first two sets with the crowd on his side willing him to victory before it all started to unravel.
His serve, which had been impenetrable, started to fail him and he began hitting balls off the frame.
Djokovic squared the match at two sets all but Federer still had the match in his grasp when he broke to lead 5-3 in the fifth only to stumble with the finish line in sight.
“It was a tough year in terms of some tough losses at some crucial stages of the season but look, it’s not the first time it’s happened,” Federer said.
“I have had big matches where I ended up losing some, but the majority I was able to win throughout my career.
“Some of them you just have to move forward with also losses like this and not get too down about it.”
It was the sort of defeat that might have given Federer cause to question his future but he said it only fueled his determination to come back stronger next season.
“I guess I will be extremely hungry going to Australia next year,” he said. “I know if I keep on working hard now that I’m feeling so good right now it will all pay off.”
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