The untouchable aura has faded but the results are coming in all the same for Roger Federer, who held off 130th-ranked Gilles Muller at the US Open to reach a Grand Slam semi-final for an 18th consecutive time.
|Djokovic was booed by the crowd following his post-game speech [GALLO/GETTY]
Second-ranked Federer had to work harder than expected in a 7-6 (5), 6-4, 7-6 (5) win over Muller.
It was his 32nd consecutive victory in a row at Flushing Meadows, where he has won the past four championships.
Bidding for a 13th Grand Slam title, which would move him one short of Pete Sampras' record, Federer will next meet No. 3 Novak Djokovic of Serbia, who beat 2003 champion and local favourite Andy Roddick 6-2, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5).
Two points from forcing a fifth set at 5-4 in the fourth, No. 8 Roddick double-faulted twice and was broken for the fifth time, twice more than he lost serve in his first four matches here combined.
Djokovic and Federer's meeting will be a rematch of last year's US Open final.
Djokovic, who is 2-6 against Federer, called the Swiss star the "absolute favorite."
Djokovic was thinking of Federer's record, not so much on this week's form.
No other man has played in more than 10 major semifinals in a row, although it was Djokovic who cashed in the last time Federer lost a semifinal at a Grand Slam tournament, the young Serb upsetting him in the semis before going on to win the Australian Open in January.
Despite playing a man who never before was past the third round at a major, Federer had some trouble with Muller.
He wasted six set points in the opener but closed it out on his seventh chance when Muller missed a backhand volley.
Federer only went 1-for-11 on break-point chances.
"Today was particularly difficult, the sun, the wind, and he's been serving great," Federer said of Muller, a qualifier.
"I didn't get that many opportunities."
Saturday's other men's semifinal will be top-ranked Rafael Nadal, who has beaten Federer in the last two finals at Grand Slams, against Scotland's Andy Murray.
In the women's semifinals, two-time champion Serena Williams will face Russia's Dinara Safina, and Jelena Jankovic of Serbia will meet Russian Elena Dementieva.
One of the four will move up to No. 1 in the rankings after the tournament.
|Federer needs to prove his return to form in the semi-final [GALLO/GETTY]
Federer spent a record 237 consecutive weeks at the top of the men's rankings from February 2004 until last month, when Nadal supplanted him.
That's only one of the streaks Federer has seen broken this year.
He reached a record 10 consecutive major finals, until losing to Djokovic in the Australian Open semifinals in January.
He won a record-tying five consecutive Wimbledon titles, until losing a 9-7 fifth set to Nadal in near-darkness in July.
He was seeded No. 1 at 18 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments until Nadal relegated him to No. 2 at this one.
Patrick McEnroe, who is coaching Roddick at the Open and who is also the US Davis Cup captain said "There's a lot at stake for him, obviously, as far as, you know, not having won a major this year and losing a No. 1 ranking.
So he seems to be obviously very focused and is playing better."
Federer did exactly that in the final tiebreaker against Muller.
Trailing 4-1, Federer took six of the final seven points, including a cross-court backhand to get to match point.
It was the sort of brilliant stroke Federer often produces, but he marked this one with a loud "Come on!"
Djokovic was also pumped, admitting he was angered by comments Roddick made this week after the Serb called for the trainer more than once as he dealt with hip, ankle, stomach and breathing issues in a five-set ordeal Tuesday against No. 15 Tommy Robredo of Spain.
Asked then about Djokovic's problems, Roddick jokingly asked whether the list shouldn't also include bird flu, anthrax, SARS and a common cold, adding: "He's either quick to call a trainer or he's the most courageous guy of all time."
After beating Roddick, ending the match with a 125 mph (201 kph) serve that drew a long return, Djokovic made reference to those comments.
"That's not nice anyhow to say in front of this crowd that I have 16 injuries and that I'm faking," Djokovic said during a postmatch interview that drew boos from the spectators in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
"They're already against me, because they think I'm faking everything."
|Roddick will lead the US in the Davis Cup later in the month [GALLO/GETTY]
Roddick maintained he meant no offence.
"It was completely meant in jest," Roddick said.
"I should know better. But listen, I joke all the time. I don't think anyone in their right mind takes me serious."
Later, the players spoke privately, and said they would keep the conversation private.
Both were contrite afterward.
"He made a joke and it was a misunderstanding, so I don't blame it on him," Djokovic said.
"Maybe I exaggerated and reacted bad in that moment. I apologize."
Against Roddick, Djokovic grew increasingly agitated when spectators called out as he was trying to serve or in the middle of points.
With Djokovic serving at 3-3 in the fourth set, he watched Roddick's backhand winner fly past to set up break point and yelled, "Shut up!" in the direction of the stands, then cursed.
Roddick followed with another backhand winner to cap a 12-stroke exchange and take the lead in the set.
First, Roddick pushed a forehand wide.
Then he double-faulted, not once but twice, to hand over a break point.
And Djokovic didn't let the opportunity pass by, delivering a perfect lob winner to get to 5-5.
"You know what? I honestly don't feel like they were super-tight doubles," Roddick said.
"I had been playing pretty high-risk, high-reward tennis to get back and I probably wasn't about to stop.