Roger Federer had been 178-0 in Grand Slam matches after winning the first two sets. Make that 178-1.
The six-time Wimbledon champion was sent packing from the All England Club in stunning fashion on Wednesday, blowing a two-set quarterfinal lead to No. 12-seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The Frenchman advances to face Novak Djokovic in a Friday semifinal.
Federer cruised out of the gate, riding an early break to a first-set win and dominating in a second-set tiebreaker. Most had penciled, if not Sharpied, him into the next round. Commentators on television spent most of the third set discussing Federer's chances of winning a seventh Wimbledon crown, which would have tied him with Pete Sampras for the most in history.
Through this, a funny thing was happening on the way to Federer's coronation. Tsonga was dominating his service games. After breaking early in the match, Federer never had another break point. It was easy not to notice, the first-set victory being followed by the tiebreak win and all. When Tsonga finally broke through and got a break of his own, Federer didn't have a legitimate chance to break back. Every time he got out to a quick lead on Tsonga's serve, the Frenchman seemed to respond with an ace down the middle or a quick winner.
Federer didn't help himself. His forehand, which had been executed with pinpoint accuracy in the first two sets, was spraying all over the court and his footwork looked sluggish. Both players got to almost everything but only Tsonga was creating winners on those kinds of points.
Blowing the lead will dominate the headlines. Much more disturbing for Federer is that this is his second straight exit in the Wimbledon quarterfinals after seven straight years of advancing to the final. The all-time winningest Grand Slam champion has been in his "lion in winter" phase for three years now, ever since his 2008 Wimbledon finals loss to Rafael Nadal. It's still premature. Of course his game has slipped from its transcendent peak. Could it have fallen that far if a quarterfinal loss is met with such astonishment?
In an interview with the BBC after the match, Tsonga was asked how he managed to come back from two down. The first-time Wimbledon semifinalist flashed a sheepish smile and said, "I don't know yet."
He's not the only one.
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