This may be the Year of Serena at the U.S. Open with all the attention focused on Serena Williams' bid for the first calendar-year Grand Slam in 27 years, but a suddenly resurgent Roger Federer quietly is finding his way back to the spotlight.
The greatest male player of all time won the last of his record 17 Grand Slam titles in 2012 at Wimbledon and won his fifth U.S. Open title in 2008. But at 34, he advanced to the semifinals with his fifth consecutive straight-set win of the tournament, 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 over Frenchman Richard Gasquet Wednesday night at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Tomorrow's semifinal will match the "Swiss Misters'' when Federer takes on countryman Stan Wawrinka, who trounced South African Kevin Anderson, 6-3, 6-3, 6-0, at Louis Armstrong Stadium. The other men's semifinal pits world No. 1 Novak Djokovic against defending champion Marin Cilic.
Reminded in the post-match interview on court that he would be playing his 20th all-time match against Federer, Wawrinka laughed and said, "I don't want to know the stats.''
For the record, Federer leads 16-3, with all three losses to Wawrinka on clay, including their last meeting in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros, where Wawrinka won his second Grand Slam title in the French Open. The two never have met in the U.S, Open.
"It's special,'' Wawrinka said of a player who has been as much a mentor to him as a rival. "He plays so good this summer. He's trying to invent a new shot.''
Wawrinka was referring to how Federer has been coming in against second serves to chip back a half-volley and take control at the net. He did it against Gasquet, who is 0-9 against Federer on hard courts.
Federer won 23 of 28 net points, had 16 aces to Gasquet's one and hit 50 total winners to Gasquet's eight. Federer did not face a single break point.
"I've worked on my game moving forward,'' Federer said. "I'm volleying better than I have in the last 10 years. Because my serve is working quite well, you put those two things together and I'm moving in on my return, too.''
Wawrinka was nearly as dominant against Anderson, who made his first appearance in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam after his upset of No. 3 Andy Murray. Anderson added 12 aces for a tournament-high total of 106, but he also had nine double-faults and 42 unforced errors compared to only 15 by Wawrinka, who won 94 percent of his first-serve points (32 of 34).
"It was a great performance for me,'' Wawrinka said. "I'm really happy with the way I was playing.''
A couple times against Anderson, Wawrinka tried the so-called "SABR shot'' that Federer has perfected when returning second serves, but he explained he simply was trying to see what Federer has done to improve.
"We all see what Roger is doing right now,'' Wawrinka said. "It's quite impressive . . . He's trying some new things, for sure. We love to watch him more than 10 years. He always can do shots no one else can do. That's why he's the greatest.''
Federer won his previous tournament in Cincinnati, upsetting Djokovic in the final. "I watched him a lot in Cincinnati,'' Wawrinka said. "He's moving better than ever. Everything he's doing seems so easy, but as a tennis player, you know how difficult it is.''
Although Federer said he can treat his close friend Wawrinka as a normal opponent, he admitted, "Subconsciously, you know he knows what your preferences are. For Switzerland, it's huge that we have two guys in the semifinals. We'll both be pumped up.''