Roger Federer hits to John Millman in a round-of-16 match on Sept, 3, 2018, at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

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Liguori: Federer Complains About Lack Of Air Circulation After US Open Loss

Says Arthur Ashe Stadium Not Same Since Roof Added

Ann Liguori
September 04, 2018 - 12:09 pm

The unexpected happened Monday night and into the wee hours Tuesday at the U.S. Open: Roger Federer was ousted in the fourth round by an Australian journeyman ranked 55th in the world. It’s the first time in Federer’s illustrious career that he was beaten by a player ranked outside the top 50.

The highly anticipated Federer-Novak Djokovic quarterfinal matchup was not meant to be.

Instead, the 29-year-old John Millman will be facing No. 6 seed Djokovic on Wednesday in the quarterfinals. Millman toiled on the Challengers Tour for years, oftentimes sleeping in airports to save money before making it to the major leagues. Millman pulled off the shocker of these championships, perhaps one of the biggest upsets in U.S. Open history, beating Federer, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (3). It’s just the second time the five-time U.S. Open winner lost before the quarters in Flushing.

“Was just one of those nights where I guess I felt I couldn't get air,” said Federer. “There was no circulation at all. I don't know, for some reason, I just struggled in the conditions tonight. It's one of the first times it's happened to me.”

Temperatures sizzled during the day in the low 90s with high humidity. It didn’t get much cooler or less humid by the time Federer and Millman took the court after Carla Suarez Navarro, the 30th seed from Spain, ousted Maria Sharapova, the 2006 U.S. Open champ. It was the first time Sharapova lost in an evening session on the Ashe court in 22 matches.

“Yeah, it's uncomfortable,” Federer said. “Clearly just keep on sweating more and more and more and more as the match goes on. You lose energy as it goes by.”

The 20-time Grand Slam champ has criticized the lack of air in Ashe Stadium ever since the roof was added to that court in 2016. The stadium was not covered during the match but players have complained that since the roof was added -- much of its structure hangs over the court on all four sides -- that there is little air circulation.

“I do believe since the roof is on that there is no air circulation in the stadium,” Federer said. "I think just that makes it a totally different U.S. Open. Plus, conditions maybe were playing slower this year on top of it. You have soaking wet pants, soaking wet everything. The balls are in there, too. You try to play. Everything gets slower as you try to hit winners.”

The 37-year-old Federer, who won the Australian Open in January, admitted that his opponent was able to deal with the heat and humidity better.

“He maybe comes from one of the most humid places on earth, Brisbane," Federer said of Millman. "I knew I was in for a tough one. Maybe when you feel like that as well, you start missing chances, and I had those. That was disappointing.”

Federer struggled with his serve from the start of the match. His first serve percentage was a low 49, and he served 10 double faults. He failed to convert three set points. And in the fourth-set tiebreaker, Federer served back-to-back double faults.

Earlier in the heat and high humidity on the Ashe court, Djokovic, the two-time U.S. Open champion, enjoyed a straight-set win against his fourth-round opponent, Joao Sousa of Portugal, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3. But it was much more difficult than it looked, Djokovic said after the match.

Djokovic rallied from being down a break in the second set, and in the third, the 31-year-old struggled physically and took a medical timeout when he was up 2-1. But he broke to take a 5-3 lead and served out the match to move into the quarterfinals.

Djokovic came back from taking most of 2017 off with an elbow injury. He retired in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon last year. He came back and played the Australian Open this past January but reinjured the elbow, taking more time off. Upon his return, Djokovic played Wimbledon, ranked 21st in the world, and won it, beating Kevin Anderson in straight sets. In the semifinals, Djokovic prevailed over Rafael Nadal in a five-set, two-day epic.

When he was asked how that Wimbledon title -- his 13th Grand Slam championship -- changed his life, Djokovic provided a thoughtful, thorough answer, as he often does.

“Well, first I have to say that tennis is not determining whether I'm happy or not,” he said. “I'm a father of two kids. There is a lot more happening in my life than tennis only. So, of course, I do feel better, you know, if I get to win a tennis match that I worked very hard for. If I lose it, you know, it's not going to change the course of my every day for a certain amount of months or certain period.

“It wasn't like it used to be. When I got that blessing to become a father, you know, things have changed. You added more meaning and more purpose to your life, more responsibilities. So there are things that make you happy even when you lose a tennis match. So that's the first thing.

“In terms of tennis-related only, of course I felt huge relief when I won Wimbledon this year because of the period of last couple years before that, what I've been through with injury, inspiring myself to get back on the track and try to win majors and be one of the best players in the world," Djokovic continued.

“Being absent from the tour for six months allowed me to have time for reflection for, you know, taking a larger perspective at things and understanding how I want to come back to the tour, how I want to play. Things I wanted to always work on but never had time, I had time. Well, I haven't really played because of the elbow, but still I had time to reorganize my whole life. So, I'm grateful for that opportunity.”

Federer joked about retiring earlier in the week. But you have to wonder if he has more early-round exits in the future to players outside the top 50, and if the hot and humid conditions affect him so adversely, how much longer will he want to deal with the extremes and the unexpected results?

Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori.