Despite the best efforts of Hurricane Earl there was never any chance of Roger Federer being blown off course in his quest to win a sixth US Open title here yesterday. The weather system that has been causing disruption up America's east coast sent litter swirling across the courts and made serving a major challenge for many, but Federer took everything in his stride to beat Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-4 6-3 6-3 in just 99 minutes.
When the former world No 1 lost in the quarter-finals at the French Open and Wimbledon this summer, ending his run of 23 consecutive appearances in Grand Slam semi-finals, there were some who questioned whether he would ever add to his record tally of 16 major titles. But the 29-year-old Swiss bounced back by winning last month's Cincinnati Masters, his first title since the Australian Open at the start of the year, and has looked in ominous form here. He has not dropped a set in his first three matches and rarely gave Mathieu a chance.
Since joining forces at the end of July with a new coach, Paul Annacone, who used to work with Pete Sampras and Tim Henman, Federer has been playing with renewed aggression. He has also restored much of the variety on his serve. Despite the tricky conditions, the Swiss put 13 aces past Mathieu, who was one of six Frenchmen in the third round, an Open era record here.
Gaël Monfils and Richard Gasquet both maintained their winning runs yesterday and will meet in an all-French encounter in the fourth round. Monfils equalled his best performance here by beating Janko Tipsarevic, Andy Roddick's conqueror, 7-6 6-7 6-2 6-4, while Gasquet kept up his recent improvement to beat South Africa's Kevin Anderson 6-4 7-6 6-5.
Gasquet, who has not dropped a set in his first three matches, has not played in the fourth round of a Grand Slam event since losing to Andy Murray at Wimbledon two years ago. The former world No 7 has struggled to recapture his best form since the controversy surrounding his positive drugs test for cocaine last year, when he was off the court for four months. He was No 86 in the world rankings three months ago but is back up to No 38 and will make further progress in next week's updated list.
Robin Soderling is seeded to meet Federer in the quarter-finals and stayed on course with a 6-2 6-3 6-3 defeat of Thiemo de Bakker. The Swede now plays Spain's Albert Montanes, whose opponent, Kei Nishikori, retired in the second set.
Rafael Nadal, having looked below his best against Teymuraz Gabashvili in the first round, moved up a gear with his 6-2 7-6 7-5 victory over Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan on Friday night. John McEnroe is among those who believe the world No 1 can complete his set of Grand Slam titles here, but Nadal patiently dismisses such talk.
"You are focused on this," the Spaniard said when asked what he thought about trying to follow the example of Federer, who finally completed his set of Grand Slam titles at last year's French Open. "Maybe it was a big goal for Roger because he is the best player in history and he needed Roland Garros. He deserved Roland Garros because he had played in three finals there and a semi-final.
"Seriously, for me, completing the Grand Slam at this moment is not a goal. For me the goal is to try to improve my level, to play well in my next match, and we will see what happens next Sunday."
What chance did he think he had of being the best player ever, as he described Federer? "I've never thought about that. I don't think I am ready to be the best in history. I seriously think this is not the right moment to talk about that. I am 24 years and a few months old and to talk about history when you are still playing is difficult.
"I'm very happy with my eight Grand Slams, the Olympics, 18 Masters 1000 titles. In one way I am probably already part of the history of tennis, so I am very happy with that. I don't know if I'm going to have the chance to keep winning Grand Slams. I'm going to try for sure. But be the best in history is almost impossible."
Nadal had not been happy with his serve in the build-up to the year's final Grand Slam event, but a small change under the supervision of Toni Nadal, his uncle and coach, has made all the difference. "I changed the grip a little bit five or six days ago," Nadal said. "I tried to play the serve a little bit more aggressively."
In the quarter-finals Nadal could face David Nalbandian, playing his first Grand Slam tournament for more than 18 months after injury problems. The 28-year-old Argentinian meets Fernando Verdasco of Spain in the third round after an impressive 7-5 6-4 6-2 victory over France's Florent Serra.