Just when it appeared a pretty safe bet that the U.S. Open's top four seeds were on track to advance to Saturday's semifinals, 26-year-old Czech Tomas Berdych emerged as a shark in the water, devouring No. 1 Roger Federer in Wednesday night's quarterfinal, 7-6 (1), 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.
Thus was this year's Open lighter by one more familiar name. No 2010 champion Rafael Nadal, who withdrew with knee tendinitis. No Andy Roddick, the 2003 champ, beaten in what became his final pro match Wednesday.
And, among the women: No Kim Clijsters, the three-time champion who went out in the second round and into retirement. No Venus Williams, the two-time tournament winner, also eliminated in the second round.
Novak Djokovic, the defending men's champion and No. 2 seed, is still around, a 6-4, 6-1, 3-1 (retired) winner over Stanislas Wawrinka with the completion of their rain-delayed fourth-round match. Wawrinka surrendered with the flu and chills.
And No. 3 Andy Murray moved into the semis by rallying for a 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-0 quarterfinal victory against Marin Cilic. (In yesterday's other match, a fourth-rounder, No. 8 Janko Tipsarevic defeated Philipp Kohlschreiber, 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-2.)
It was a logical assumption that Federer, against No. 6 Berdych, would justify his recently claimed world No. 1 ranking that resulted from his seventh Wimbledon title last month. Federer, at 31, was playing in his 34th consecutive major tournament quarterfinal. Berdych, though he reached the Australian Open quarters this year, was stopped in the fourth round at the French Open and in Wimbledon's first round.
But the rangy, 6-5 Berdych (literally the man in the black hat Wednesday night), recently had cut into Federer's lifetime 11-4 record against him by winning three of their previous six meetings, qualifying him as a legitimate lurker.
An early first-set service break by Federer became as distant memory as the five-time Open champion, began spraying shots around Arthur Ashe Stadium with a shocking frequency.
Once Berdych, the 2010 Wimbledon runner-up who never had been past the fourth round in nine previous Flushing Meadows appearances, stormed through the first-set tiebreaker, winning the last five points -- two on unforced Federer errors -- Federer played as if in need of a remedial course.
Federer sent two forehands wide to hand Berdych the service break at the start of the second set. And, the more Federer missed -- floating shots way long and noticeably wide -- the cleaner and harder Berdych began hitting the ball.
Federer settled himself in the third set, but Berdych's forehand cross-court winner broke Federer in the eighth game of the fourth set for a 5-3 lead and he served out the match at love. It was the first time Federer failed to reach the Open semifinals since 2003.
"I just didn't come up with the goods tonight,'' Federer said. "It was unfortunate.''
Federer committed an uncommonly high 40 unforced errors, compared with Berdych's 21, and needed to save three break points just to survive the fifth game of the second set. Two games later, though, Federer's two double faults led to another Berdych break. On Berdych's serve, which was coming in almost 140 miles per hour, Federer often appeared helpless.
-- With AP