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Federer saves two match points to beat Monfils

Michael Beattie at Flushing Meadows
September 5, 2014 « 'Donald omission McGinley's hardest task' | Day 6: Maria Ho eliminated, 68 left »
Roger Federer fended off two match points in the fourth set before storming to victory in the fifth © AP
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It takes something special for a player to win over a US Open night session crowd when facing Roger Federer. But beating the five-time champion under the lights on Arthur Ashe? Another proposition entirely. Gael Monfils came close on both counts, but the Swiss survived to the delight of the 23,000-strong army of spectators.

Federer is back in the US Open semi-finals for the first time since 2011 on a night of high drama at Flushing Meadows, fighting back from two sets down and saving two match points in the fourth before running away with the fifth to win 4-6 3-6 6-4 7-5 6-2.

It was Federer's 28th night-session victory in New York, drawing him level with Andre Agassi. The No.2 seed will face Marin Cilic in Saturday's semi-final after the Croatian powered 19 aces past Tomas Berdych en route to a straight-sets victory and his first semi-final at Flushing Meadows.

Federer paid tribute to Cilic's vast improvement in 2014 - "he's really cleaned up his game, it just feels like it's not so much in the other guy's racket" - but for now, the 33-year-old was simply relieved to avoid his second defeat after dark in New York. It was the first time he had fought back from match point down at a grand slam.

"The margins are so, so slim at that point that it's not really in your control really anymore," Federer said of facing match point. "He needs one net cord or something so silly. When guys wish you good luck before the match, that's when you hope it's gonna kick in.

"Today I definitely got lucky obviously. But I felt like I was forcing the issue, so maybe there was some merit from that standpoint."

Monfils, the alternative star of this US Open, shuns convention as a rule. On court that has meant struggles to keep a leash on his athleticism and flair-driven game, and the occasional Coke at change of ends; off-court it has prompted an 18-month spell without a coach. Neither proved to be a problem in New York.

Take the swinging, volleyed drive from the baseline that flew past Federer in the opening set. The ball was likely going long and few players, let alone coaches, could even envisage the shot. But Monfils drilled it for a winner, reached break point, and at the fourth attempt drew an error from the Federer backhand to lead 3-2.

With that, the match sparked into life. As he has all summer, Federer came to the net at any given opportunity to produce an array of stunning volleys, but the errors came thick and fast during the back court exchanges.

Monfils held firm to claim the opener and promptly broke at the start of the second set with Federer unsure how to throw his opponent off-balance. In the event the Frenchman did it for him, rolling his ankle soon after but broke once more to claim the set courtesy of a blistering cross-court forehand, his 19th winner of the match. Federer saved the first but gave up the second with a netted backhand, his 25th unforced error.

The pair traded a flurry of breaks early in the third, Federer attacking the net relentlessly to suck the energy out of Monfils and claim the third of them. From 3-2 the 33-year-old fired himself up, holding to love as the Frenchman dropped his first set of the tournament.

Once more Federer hit the front early in the fourth but Monfils broke back immediately, chattering to himself throughout to stay fired up and focused. Then, the unthinkable: serving to stay in the match at 4-5, Federer blazed two forehands wide to hand the 28-year-old two match points. He saved both, with a service winner and a short forehand; then, almost inevitably, two Monfils double-faults handed him the break. The set, the chance, was gone.

The match clock passed three hours as Federer broke at the start of the final set. Monfils, so pumped throughout the fourth, was flat in the fifth, falling to a second tame break to trail 5-1 in a blink. When the end came, it was swift and ruthless, Federer sealing victory with a hold to love in three hours, 20 minutes.

Federer paid tribute to the crowd afterwards, admitting they played a part in his comeback.

"There is nobody like New Yorkers, and this stadium here is phenomenal," he said. "I think once they clamp down and get into it it really is truly special. I have played some amazing matches here.

"I'm happy I got through one tonight. Regardless if I won or lost it it was really special."

Gael Monfils has been outstanding in New York and came agonisingly close to his first US Open semi-final © AP
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