Roger Federer suffered his earliest exit at Cincinnati in 11 years going out to qualifier Andrey Rublev rather routinely 6-3, 6-4 in the third round.
Rublev, who had won four straight matches including two in qualifying, broke Federer right away then behind a powerful forehand and some good serving, rolled to an easy first set win.
Federer played a little better off the ground in the second, but the 21-year-old Russian was just too strong off the forehand, refusing to miss during his first Top 3 victory of his career.
“It’s my biggest and the most emotional win,” Rublev said after reaching his first Masters quarterfinal. “The true champion and legend he is… I can’t imagine every day how much pressure you have. I mean, to know that you’re Roger and everybody is watching you and you need to prove it every day, and he’s doing this, I don’t know for how many years. I mean, this is something, I don’t know, unreal.”
Federer, who had never played Rublev before, wasn’t that down after the loss.
“He was super clean. Defence, offence, serving well. Didn’t give me anything. He was everywhere. So it was tough for me, but excellent match by him. I was impressed,” Federer said.
“It’s maybe a small advantage to have over us, but regardless, you’ve still got to hit the corners, hit the lines, keep it going. He did exactly that. He was really perfect today. It was a great performance.”
“I played 45 matches this year, so I think I should be fine,” said Federer.
Rublev will now meet his hot countryman Daniil Medvedev who breezed past Jan-Lennard Struff 6-2, 6-1.
“We are good friends, and we know each other quite well since kids,” said Rublev of the match-up. “It’s going to be interesting match for Russia. He’s now [the Russian] No. 1, so I have no pressure. Last time we played…he beat me easily. Tomorrow all the pressure will be on him. I will try to enjoy. I will try to do my best tomorrow, and we will see what’s going to happen.”
The other Russian Karen Khachanov couldn’t make it a threesome as he bowed out to Lucas Pouille 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-3.
Pouille now meets defending champion Novak Djokovic who gave a lesson to Pablo Carreno Busta in a 6-3, 6-4. The Spaniard played well, but Djokovic, the last remaining Masters champion in the field, was the better man.
“I don’t think the score indicates how tough it was on the court. We battled it out. I think I was serving really well. That was probably the best shot in the game tonight for me, over 70 per cent of first serves in. Got me out of trouble in the second set when I was facing break points,” Djokovic said.
“I thought he was very solid. Played against him a couple of times and have seen him play, and I knew what quality he possesses, but he did surprise me with his aggressiveness from the back of the court. As soon as he got a little bit of a softer ball from my side, he went for it from both forehand and backhand flat coming in.”
Djokovic hammered Pouille in the Australian Open semifinal in their only prior meeting.
Wimbledon semifinalist Roberto Bautista Agut remains the class of the bottom half. He beat up on teen qualifier Miomir Kecmanovic 6-1, 6-2. He’ll now get Richard Gasquet who eased past Diego Schwartzman 7-6(6), 6-3.
A semifinalist a year ago, David Goffin will try to get back to that stage against qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka. Goffin cruised past Adrian Mannarino 7-6(2), 6-2. Nishioka continued his dream week topping Alex De Minaur 7-5, 6-4.
FRIDAY CINCINNATI SCHEDULE
WTA –  Ashleigh Barty (Australia) vs Maria Sakkari (Greece)
Not Before 1:00 pm
ATP –  Roberto Bautista Agut (Spain) vs [PR] Richard Gasquet (France)
Not Before 3:00 pm
WTA – Sofia Kenin (USA) vs  Naomi Osaka (Japan)
Night Session – Not Before 7:00 pm
WTA – Venus Williams (USA) vs  Madison Keys (USA)
Not Before 9:00 pm
ATP –  Novak Djokovic (Serbia) vs Lucas Pouille (France)
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