After Ekaterina Makarova and Bruno Soares claimed the first title of the 2012 US Open with a victory in mixed doubles, the last two men’s singles quarterfinals took the court.  We review the key moments from those scintillating encounters.

Ferrer d. Tipsarevic:  Towering far above expectations was the quarterfinal between the two smallest men remaining in the draw.  Through five sets and more than four and half hours, these gritty competitors battled each other into a decisive tiebreak that hinged upon a single minibreak.  Well before that moment, the slightly favored Ferrer nearly established a stranglehold over the match.  Winning the first set without undue difficulty, he stood toe to toe with Tipsarevic en route to a second-set tiebreak, but the Serb ambushed him at that critical juncture to draw level.  Perhaps disconcerted by that abru pt shift in the narrative, the fourth seed could not wrest away the momentum from the surging underdog.  Tipsarevic converted an impressive quantity of his high-risk groundstrokes during that set and soon hovered within a set of his first major semifinal.  But Ferrer has forged an overachieving career by responding to adversity with courage, so his fourth-set comeback should have surprised few observers. 

As the final set began, then, neither man held a clear advantage, and the climax of this quarterfinal captured the rollercoaster dynamic that had characterized it in general.  After Tipsarevic burst out to a 4-2 lead, smart shot selection and stingy defense by Ferrer not only erased the lead but earned two break points at 4-4.  Clearly fatigued by playing a best-of-five match for the second straight day, his opponent then received a medical timeout in the midst of the game, a highly unusual event.  The treatment boosted Tipsarevic physically and perhaps psychologically as well, for he reeled off a volley winner, two service winners, and an ace to hold.  A game later, the Spaniard faced his own moment of truth when he stood two points of defeat after an inopportune net cord.  Once he escaped that precipice with well-placed serves and crisp backhands, the two players held serve until the nerve-jangling tiebreak.  Like many of these exercises in suspense, it featured a series of missed first serves and unforced errors, but the first seven points all trickled into the server’s pocket.  On the eighth point, Ferrer drew the only minibreak that he would need with a vicious inside-in forehand that drew his opponent wide of the doubles alley and opened the court for his trademark inside-out forehand.  Although Tipsarevic bravely hammered an ace on the next point, the fourth seed fought through the next two rallies successfully as he did just enough to draw desperate errors from the Serb.  Ferrer reaches his second semifinal of 2012 (fourth overall) and second at the US Open.

Djokovic d. Del Potro:  Routine at the start and at the end, another straight-sets victory for the defending champion featured a compelling second set that spanned 84 minutes and featured a 22-point, 17-minute game.  Before the quarterfinal reached this stage, though, Djokovic unleashed a scorching display of rockets down the line to thrust Del Potro onto the defensive from the outset.  Throughout the authoritative first set, the Serb jerked his ungainly opponent around the court at will except when the Argentine delivered an unanswerable first serve, of which he struck several.  Cruising towards the semifinals almost too easily, Djokovic understandably lost focus when he served to start the second set and played a dreadful game to drop serve at love with two routine errors and a double fault.  Service holds then flowed freely for the next eight games, when the only dramatic sequence of the match occurred.

Breaking Del Potro after a physically grinding rally when he served for the set at 5-4, Djokovic exploded in one of his signature howls.  Shortly thereafter, the Argentine served to stay in the set and found himself mired in the endless duel mentioned above.  While Del Potro saved three set points with fearless hitting, mostly on forehands, Djokovic erased game point after game point with penetrating returns and blistering backhands.  Eight deuces later, consecutive service winners finally allowed the 2009 champion to survive the game, and the momentum shift in his favor may have contributed to the 2-0 lead that he established in the tiebreak.  Nevertheless, the epic game exacted a long-term toll on his energy that grew apparent as Djokovic swept four of the next five points.  When the Serb served at 5-3 in the tiebreak, he virtually drove Del Potro into the ground with a drop shot-lob-smash-drop volley combination that left one man with his fists raised to the sky in triumph and the other man bent double at the net in exhaustion and demoralization.  Another crushing winner down the line terminated the tiebreak immediately, and the third set almost never seemed in doubt.  Surrendering his serve in the opening game after a double fault and a netted drop shot, Del Potro did earn a break point in each of Djokovic’s next two service games.  But the Serb meandered in and out of trouble with a calm expression on his face, surely realizing that he had broken his rival’s spirit in the dramatic conclusion to the second set.  In the final game, Del Potro did produce a sensational running pass on his forehand, and the New York crowd erupted one last time in 2012 for the man who had seized their imagination in 2009.  Reality returned with two more thunderous backhands from Djokovic, who confirmed his status as the distinct favorite to defend his title in New York.