Rafael Nadal’s hardships on hard courts continued as the Spaniard suffered a fourth-set collapse against unseeded Russian Mikhail Youzhny in the quarter-finals of the US Open.
Nadal saw his men’s singles title ambitions disappear as a finely balanced match at the Louis Armstrong Stadium turned into a rout. Youzhny advanced to his first career Grand Slam semi-final with a 6-3 5-7 7-6 (7-5) 6-1 victory.
The second-ranked player in the world, Nadal is most comfortable on clay, evidenced by his consecutive titles at the French Open. But his 52-8 mark this season belies his problems on concrete, where he is an ordinary 16-5 with just one of his five titles.
The loss ended the possibility of another Grand Slam final meeting between Nadal and rival Roger Federer, the top-ranked player in the world. Nadal defeated Federer at the French Open but lost at Wimbledon.
After winning the first set, Youzhny lost his grip on the match as Nadal evened matters and threatened to take the third set.
Nadal held a 5-4, 40-love lead but squandered three set points, eventually losing a tiebreaker.
Youzhny raced to a 5-0 lead before Nadal held serve in the fourth set. The Spaniard even had a break point in the next game, but Youzhny was not to be derailed and served out for a stunning victory.
Nadal was Youzhny’s third Spanish victim of the tournament, having previously ousted number 11 David Ferrer and number six Tommy Robredo.
But it was clear this latest conquest meant the most as he gave a military salute to the cheering fans at Louis Armstrong Stadium.
Youzhny next faces 2003 champion Andy Roddick after he defeated 15th-seed Lleyton Hewitt in straight sets.
In 2001, the hard-serving Roddick was just 19 when he lost a heartbreaking, controversial five-set match in the round of eight to Hewitt, who went on to win the tournament.
The American was serving at 4-5 in the fifth set when he hit a forehand for an apparent winner on the far side of the court.
Chair umpire Jorge Dias overruled the linesman and called the ball out, leading to a tirade by Roddick, who promptly was broken to lose the match.
But there was to be no controversy this time as Roddick cruised to a straight sets victory 6-3 7-5 6-4.
Meanwhile, Tuesday’s inclement weather gave Andy Murray time to regroup, but he could not take advantage.
Trailing two sets to one to Nikolay Davydenko when the skies opened on Tuesday, Murray came out flat yesterday morning on Armstrong, getting broken in his first service game and never recovering as he fell to the seventh-seeded Russian, 6-1 5-7 6-3 6-0, in the fourth-round encounter.
“Yesterday was a different match,” Davydenko said. “Yesterday we both played good. Today was completely different.”
Davydenko will next meet 14th-seeded German Tommy Haas, who outlasted 2000 champion Marat Safin of Russia in another rain-suspended match, 4-6 6-3 2-6 6-2 7-6 (7-5).
Safin, who was taking the court for a fourth straight day, erased a mini-break and forged a 5-5 tie in the final-set tiebreaker with a crosscourt forehand winner past Haas at the net. Haas countered with a service winner before Safin sent a backhand long on match point.
“In the tiebreak, two balls that I missed cost me basically the match,” Safin said. “I played pretty well, but in important moments I didn’t do anything special.”
In a fourth-round encounter that never got under way on Tuesday, Federer defeated unseeded Frenchman Marc Gicquel 6-3 7-6 (7-2) 6-3.
The two-time defending champion, Federer saved two break points in the seventh game of the third set, then broke Gicquel to love before losing just one point on serve to close out the match.
Federer next will face fifth-seeded American James Blake, who routed 12th-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych 6-4 6-3 6-1.
Unfortunately for Blake, he has yet to win even a set in four lifetime matches against the world’s top player, including a 6-3 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 dismissal in the third round of the US Open in 2003.