No one has ever claimed that Nalbandian, who is one of the finest baseline players in the game, is a great volleyer, and on break point to end the second set Federer lashed one at his Argentine opponent, who was at the net.
Too fast. Too hard. Too tough to handle. "I thought about taking the racket away," said Nalbandian, who thought for an instant the force of the shot might send it beyond the baseline.
Instead, he blew the volley, slammed his racket head on the blue concrete and stalked to his chair as Federer put a hammerlock on the match and went on to win, 6-2, 6-4, 6-1, and earn a spot in the U.S. Open semifinals tomorrow against one of his favorite whipping boys, Lleyton Hewitt.
Hewitt, who lost to Federer in last year's Open final, earlier in the day struggled mightily to get past unseeded Jarkko Nieminen, winning, 2-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1, admitting later that he didn't have his usual quickness.
He'd better rediscover it by tomorrow because Federer has beaten him eight straight times.
After a dramatic day of tennis Wednesday, when fans jammed into Arthur Ashe Stadium to roar their approval of quarterfinal wins by Americans Robby Ginepri and Andre Agassi, things quieted down considerably yesterday.
But the numbers of fans were there if the decibels weren't, and that was fine because Federer's racket made plenty of noise for those who were there to appreciate the fine art of shot-making.
He was broken in the opening game and again in the fifth game of the second set, but there was never a sense he wouldn't break back.
Federer hasn't had one of those Pete Sampras-like dominations of the Open, where opponents have been nearly seen to celebrate at getting a break point.
After a clean sheet in his opener against Ivo Minar, Federer was broken at least once in each of his next four matches - seven times in all on 23 break-point opportunities, including two breaks in five chances by Nalbandian. But he has not been in serious trouble these past two weeks, and only Nicolas Kiefer has taken a set from him.
With two Open matches to go, he's in the homestretch of a drive to acquire the sixth Grand Slam title of his career.
Hewitt, the No. 3 seed, knew he was facing one of the fastest players on the men's tour, but that didn't allow him to control Nieminen, whose reactions with his racket and quick first steps negated a lot of Hewitt's more clever shots.
"I was patchy out there today," said Hewitt. "Tough conditions again."
Roger Federer (1) def. David Nalbandian (11), 6-2, 6-4, 6-1 Lleyton Hewitt (3) def. Jarkko Nieminen, 2-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1. Schedule
Today's top matches
Women's singles semifinals