Ferrer brings Nadal crashing down to earth

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The Independent Online

David Ferrer complained about the giant television screens in Arthur Ashe Stadium, saying they were a distraction and made it "impossible to focus". TV executives probably wished they could have done a deal with the Spaniard: we'll turn off your screens if you get off ours.

Having lost Maria Sharapova, the biggest name in the women's game, as early as last Saturday, the US Open suffered a double whammy here on Tuesday night. Television had been drooling over the possibility of a Williams sisters semi-final, only for Serena to suffer a crushing third successive Grand Slam quarter-final defeat to Justine Henin.

Even worse was to follow as Ferrer's victory over Rafael Nadal in the last match of the day dashed hopes of a third successive major final between the world No 2 and the best player on the planet, Roger Federer. Ferrer has a superb return of serve, crunching forehands and lightning feet, but he would almost certainly have been on his way to JFK Airport, without an autograph-hunter in sight, if his fellow Spaniard had been any-where near his peak.

Nadal needed treatment for a finger problem and the strapping he wore on both knees was evidence of the tendinitis that has been troubling him ever since he dropped a set to Alun Jones, an Australian wild card, in the first round. After his 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 6-2 defeat Nadal refused to talk about his physical problems, saying he did not want to make excuses and preferred to give credit to 25-year-old Ferrer, "one of the best players in the world right now".

What Ferrer may lack in charisma he makes up for in dogged determination and Nadal was gradually worn down by the world No 15's tireless retrieving and punishing forehands – a case of the biter bit if ever there was one – during a match that lasted nearly three and a half hours and finished at 1.50am.

Comparisons with last year, when Nadal did not win a tournament for nine months after taking his second French Open title, are inevitable. Although he won a clay-court event in Stuttgart immediately after Wimbledon two months ago, he has since lost to Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals in Montreal, retired during his first match in Cincinnati and now made his earliest exit from a Grand Slam tournament since losing in the third round here two years ago.

He is a wonderful athlete, but the way Nadal plays puts enormous stress on his body. While he has proved that he has the game to win on hard courts, they provide a far less forgiving surface than clay or grass and he may have to find a more economical way of winning points if he is to make as effective a challenge for Grand Slam honours here and in Melbourne as he has at Roland Garros and Wimbledon.

While Nadal was philosophical in defeat – "It's disappointing for me but that's tennis," he said, "I'm having a good season" – Williams was left all but speechless by Henin's 7-6, 6-1 victory. The first questioner at her post-match press conference asked if she could explain what had gone wrong. "No, I can't," Williams replied.

Henin swept Williams away at the French Open and although the world No 1 was taken to three sets at Wimbledon, when the American was carrying injuries suffered in the previous round, this was another emphatic victory. Having failed to capitalise on an early break, Henin saved a set point at 5-6 before winning the tie-break 7-3. The Belgian had played a cautious game in the first set, but she came out shooting from the hip in the second and Williams had no answer to a fusillade of attacking ground strokes.

Two Russians, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Anna Chakvetadze, will contest the semi-final in the bottom half of the draw. In yesterday's quarter-finals Kuznetsova, the No 4 seed and 2004 champion here, beat Hungary's Agnes Szavay 6-1, 6-4, while Chakvetadze, the No 6 seed, reached the last four of a Grand Slam event for the first time by beating Israel's Shahar Peer 6-4, 6-1.

The first player into the last four of the men's singles was Russia's Nikolay Davydenko, who beat Tommy Haas at the quarter-final stage for the second year in succession. Despite being broken in the second game of the match, Davydenko won 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 with a controlled display of baseline aggression to set up a semi-final against Roger Federer or Andy Roddick.