New York fans have never seen Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal play one another in the U.S. Open.
And now it’s possible they never will.
When the draw came out, the two arch-rivals seemed destined for their first matchup in Flushing Meadows, a quarterfinal showdown which would have had an electric atmosphere inside Arthur Ashe Stadium on Wednesday night.
But while Nadal was still playing his fourth-round match in Ashe against Phillip Kohlschreiber, Federer shocked the tennis world by losing to Tommy Robredo — a man he had held a 10-0 career record against — 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-4, after the match was moved to the cozier Louis Armstrong Stadium from Ashe because rain altered the schedule.
Robredo closed out arguably the biggest win of his career with a service winner and a sunken Federer walked off the court, his head down as he waved to the fans.
“I kind of feel like I beat myself, you know, without taking any credit away from Tommy,” Federer said. “Clearly he was making sure he was making many balls. It was up to me to make the difference and I couldn’t.
“I kind of self-destructed, which is very disappointing, especially on a quicker court.”
Federer and Nadal have battled at Wimbledon, the French Open and the Australian Open, but had never met here in Flushing Meadows. The tennis world was anxiously awaiting the latest chapter in their rivalry, mainly to see if Federer could somehow improve his record against Nadal — he trails 21-10 all time — and make yet another run in New York.
“Yeah, I mean, it would have been a quarters, not a final,” Federer said. “Not that much of a disappointment at the end of the day. If I’m playing like this, I’m not going to beat Rafa, or Kohlschreiber, for that matter.”
Looking like a shadow of a man who won five straight titles here from 2004-08, the 32-year-old Federer converted just 2-of-16 break-point chances against the 31-year-old Robredo, and that was his undoing.
“Today the only difference was I did the break points and he did not,” Robredo said. “That’s why in the end I won three sets to love.”
A former Top-10 player, Robredo was sidelined for five months last season because of a leg injury. But he has rebounded to reach the quarterfinals at the French Open and now the U.S. Open.
“That’s amazing, eh?” Robredo said in his on-court interview. “I beat the best guy of all times in a great stadium like this in the U.S. Open in a place where he loves to play.
“I’m delighted, it’s unbelievable.”
The all-time leader with 17 Grand Slam singles titles, Federer is considered by some to be the greatest of all time. But his sudden and sharp decline this year has been stunning.
Prior to Wimbledon he had reached the quarterfinals in 36 straight major events, an all-time record, but that ended when he lost in the second round of Wimbledon to the unheralded Sergiy Stakhovsky. Now he’s out in the fourth round here.
For the first time since 2002, Federer won’t appear in a major final in a season. Despite entering as a huge favorite, Federer looked shaky throughout. He wasn’t able to get very many free points on his serve or his forehand.
The pro-Federer crowd kept rooting hard for him to make a run but it never came.
Federer lost his serve at love to go down 4-3 in the third set after he had five break points with Robredo serving at 1-2.
Federer said the switch to Armstrong from Ashe didn’t bother him, and that he was actually looking forward to playing there for the first time since 2006.
“I was even happy about it,” he said. “I thought it was going to be a great atmosphere, that I could, you know, take advantage of maybe the fact that people were really going to get behind me, make it a great atmosphere.”
Despite his poor play this year, Federer has long maintained that he has no plans to retire anytime soon.
He will be back in 2014, trying to win his 18th major.
“The story of my life: When I lose, people are shellshocked to see me play this way. If I win, it’s the best thing,” he said. “Yeah, I can see that. But there’s no doubt about it, I’m trying hard out there trying to make it work. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen.”
Follow Adam Zagoria on Twitter @AdamZagoria for updates throughout the U.S. Open.