Roger Federer has done it all on the tennis court, except one thing: retire from a match due to injury. If he were ever going to do that, however, Tuesday night in Queens was the time and the place. After the fourth set of his U.S. Open quarterfinal match against 78th-ranked Grigor Dimitrov, Federer had to go to a medical timeout before continuing on.
Unfortunately for Federer and the masses of devotees at the Arthur Ashe Stadium, that timeout wasn’t enough to cure whatever ailed him, because he came back and looked like three-day-old dog shit in the fifth set of what eventually ended as a 3-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 win for Dimitrov.
Down in the decisive set of a Grand Slam, Federer couldn’t be bothered to chase after balls that he would run for 10 times out of 10 when healthy. He was double-broken early on in the set, putting him in a massive 4-0 hole that he couldn’t climb out of. His forehand also started whipping wildly in the final set, including on the game-winning point for Dimitrov.
This is the forehand of a man who has given up in every way but the literal one:
Ever the Tour’s performative proud papa, Federer gave just the tiniest hint at what was wrong in his post-match press conference—“Well, I just needed some treatment on my upper—what is it—back, neck. Just needed to try to loosen it up, crack it and see if it was going to be better.”—before turning the attention back to Dimitrov. With the win, the Bulgarian reached his first-ever U.S. Open semi-final and only the third Grand Slam final four of his career. He will face tournament troll Daniil Medvedev in the semis on Friday.
Dimitrov was excellent on Tuesday, trading sets with Federer before pouncing on his weakened prey. He had previously lost all seven matches against the Swiss cyborg, including twice at Grand Slams, but even before the medical timeout, he was hanging in there, keeping Federer off balance with mistake-free baseline tennis. The fourth set proved to be the key, as Dimitrov fought off five break points to push the match to the fifth set. He also shut down Federer with some sterling defense, including this ludicrous backhand while up 4-2:
Perhaps Federer would have retired if this weren’t the final Grand Slam of the year; it’s easier to see him call it a day at the French Open, particularly given the fact that he’s not going to win that one anyway. But with Novak Djokovic retiring from his match on Monday, Federer must have felt a window opening in the chase for his 21st Grand Slam title and sixth U.S. Open. Instead, the window shut directly on his upper back, and after three-and-a-half grueling hours, Federer is left with nothing but a shocking upset loss and continued ownership over one of tennis’ strangest streaks.