Federer breezes through against Soderling

On a wind-swept day at the US Open that had everyone complaining about the conditions, Roger Federer simply embraced them. Choosing placement over power on his serve and using a handful of sublimely spinning drop shots to take advantage of gusty winds, Federer moved one win away from his seventh straight final at Flushing Meadows with a 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 victory over Robin Soderling late on Wednesday.

Could Federer, a five-time champion at America's tennis major, actually enjoy playing when the wind affects every toss, every groundstroke, and even makes it hard to see? "I do by now, because I see it as a challenge and I see it as an opportunity to play differently," he said. "It's not easy. It's cold. Everywhere it's blowing. You feel like it's blowing through your ears and into your eyes."

Everyone felt that way, including Vera Zvonareva and Caroline Wozniacki, who each won their matches to advance to the women's semi-finals. Federer's next opponent will be Novak Djokovic, who beat Gaël Monfils 7-6, 6-1, 6-2 in another wind-blown match.

The other men's semi-final was set to be decided late last night when top-seeded Rafael Nadal was due to play Spanish compatriot Fernando Verdasco, and Mikhail Youzhny was to face Stanislas Wawrinka. More wind was forecast, though maybe not as strong as it was on Wednesday, the fifth straight day in which the massive American flag above Arthur Ashe Stadium was whipped stiff by the gusts.

"The conditions were maybe as difficult as we've seen so far in the tournament," Djokovic said after his quarter-final. "We didn't have wind in only one direction. We had it all over."

Federer handled it best, though even he had a few problems. Playing the man who beat him in the quarter-finals of the French Open, breaking his record streak of 23 straight Grand Slam semi-final appearances, one of Federer's few lapses came midway through the third set, when he lost serve to fall behind 5-3. Faced with dropping his first set of the tournament, he opened up Soderling's service game by hitting one of his drop volleys to get ahead. Then, he took something off his groundstrokes to mix things up – a fine strategy on a night when everyone had to adjust to the wind. All that mixing and matching paid off when Soderling dumped two forehands into the net to close out the game.

"The margin is small," Soderling said. "There's a couple of points here or there. He played well at the end."

By the time Federer had made it 6-5, even the fans were cheering lustily for him. He didn't disappoint, closing the match with a pair of modestly paced but well-placed aces.

Britain's Laura Robson crashed out of the girls' singles yesterday in the third round with a straight-sets defeat to American qualifier Robin Anderson. Robson, a former junior Wimbledon champion and the eighth seed here, had not lost a set in her previous two matches but was beaten 6-3, 6-2 on Court 13. The 16-year-old, who missed out on the main draw after losing in the final round of qualifying, has yet to decide whether this will be her last junior competition.


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