Andy Murray already had won his U.S. Open men's quarterfinal Wednesday night when five-time champion Roger Federer and 26-year-old Czech Tomas Berdych went on court to decide Murray's semifinal opponent.
Of course Federer, the world's top-ranked player, was expected to prevail, setting up tomorrow's much anticipated rematch. So Murray was asked about possible payback: Federer beat Murray in July's Wimbledon final before Murray reversed the result in the Olympic gold-medal match. Perhaps this would be the time when Murray, 9-8 vs. Federer but 0-3 against him in Grand Slam events, unraveled his major-tournament riddle.
After expounding upon what he called "simple" keys to picking the Federer locks ("The guy who plays better on the day will probably win"), Murray reminded that "Tomas Berdych is a great player, as well. Let's show him some respect, too."
In a two-hour, 42-minute demonstration of crisp tennis Wednesday night, Berdych dismantled Federer's usually elegant game, so in control on the big points of the first two sets that Federer couldn't recover nearly in time. Berdych won, 7-6 (1), 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, administering Federer's first defeat in 22 career night matches at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
"So many moments I thought, 'Man, it's just not happening for me,' " Federer said. "It was just a very disappointing match for me."
He committed a ghastly 40 unforced errors, 18 of those in the first set, when he squandered an early break of Berdych's serve and never got a grasp in the tiebreaker.
Berdych constantly had Federer scrambling to handle his serve, which was coming in at almost 140 miles per hour, and regularly extended groundstroke rallies until Federer hit wide or long.
"Probably there is something in my game that he doesn't like and makes him struggle," Berdych said. "I was always careful that anything could happen, but if my game is good and I'm able to play my game, then I have a quite dangerous game to beat anyone."
Berdych shocked Federer before, bouncing him out of the 2010 Wimbledon quarterfinals on the way to Berdych's only Grand Slam final (a loss to Rafael Nadal) in his 10-year pro career. Now, Murray is Berdych's problem -- or vice versa.
"He's a huge, huge hitter of the ball," Murray said. "Even if you want to dictate points and be aggressive, he can take that away because he's such a powerful guy.
"You need to be smart against him, use good variation and try not to give him the same ball over and over, because he likes that. That's the difference. Against Roger, Roger himself has a lot of variety, so it doesn't necessarily work against him."
Berdych has won four of six career meetings against Murray, including a fourth-round straight-sets victory in the 2010 French Open. "If you're down in the score and he can take some chances, that's always a danger with Tomas," Federer said. "He's a shot-maker."
Murray will show some respect Saturday.