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No longer the shocker it once was, Roger Federer losing in Paris still surprises

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A downcast Roger Federer during his five-set loss to Ernests Gulbis Sunday in Paris. (AP Photo/David Vincent)

PARIS – Let's revisit the words of Ernests Gulbis (no, not THOSE words) two days ago, when a fourth-round match at the French Open against Roger Federer beckoned.

"I don't want to tell all my cards. But I have a game plan. I know how I'm going to play him. You don't need to be scared to do certain things against him, because most of the people they go on the court and they lose already the match before it has started," Gulbis said. "I can tell you that's not gonna be the case with me.

"I'm not scared of that match at all if I would have to play against him. I played him three times, I beat him once. I'm really confident."

It turns out that, unlike half the citizens of Paris, Gulbis wasn't just blowing smoke.

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It was a sweaty effort, but Ernests Gulbis pulled off a five-set win over Roger Federer. (AP Photo/Darko Vojin …

The Feminist defeated the Fed 6-7 (5), 7-6 (3), 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 to move into his first Grand Slam quarterfinal since the 2008 French Open, when Gulbis was an insouciant 19 and probably thought these sorts of things happened all the time.

It's the first time Federer has failed to reach the quarterfinals in Paris since 2004. And it's only the third time in his last 40 Grand Slams that he hasn't made the quarters. That those three occasions have come in his last four attempts is a fact that tempers anyone's surprise about Sunday's outcome.

As well, the lack of match play that was the result of a far more important event in the grand scheme of things, the birth of his twins nearly a month ago, probably didn't help.

"Clearly very disappointed, you know, not to come through with the win. After the chance in the second set (a missed volley on set point that would have given Federer a two-sets-to-none lead), fighting back in the fourth, not to play a better fifth set. A lot of regrets here now.," he said. "But I think Gulbis, you know, did a good job of hanging around and clearly coming back in that second set was crucial for him, I think. So it was a tough match and I'm disappointed I lost it."

Sometimes after Federer – and other top players – lose a tough one, they'll come right into their press conferences practically fresh off the court. But the veteran took his time with this one; he was fairly composed by the time he came in to dissect it in three languages.

He didn't have a ... major issue with the off-court medical timeout Gulbis took, right before Federer served at 5-2 in the fourth with the momentum swinging back his way.

"If the rules allow you to do that, you know, what can you do? There is nothing much. In the past I guess it's been abused much more than today, but still, what can you tell? He didn't look hurt in any way. But if you can use it, you know, might as well do it," Federer said.

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There was some language coming from the Federer mouth during the loss to Gulbis - luckily the father of four's …

The air did seem to fizzle out of Federer's game after that long break although Gulbis said it was more his doing, that because he was still stiff after the treatment he received, he went for a lot of big shots and connected.

Gulbis, who said he doesn't like to take medical timeouts and has taken maybe three in his career, and didn't want to wait until the fifth set to do it, said he had issues with both his back and hamstring,

In the end, the talented Latvian played a terrific, bold match, one that he is more than capable of but, too many times in recent years has failed to put together. In the backhand-to-backhand matchup with Federer, it he can get it on those terms, he is superior.

So, what was that secret plan?

"The plan was to play more to his backhand and then with my backhand down the line to go for down‑the‑line shots. That was the main plan, you know, to not go too much to his forehand, because he has, you know, the nicest and the most dangerous forehand I think in the world," Gulbis said. "Yeah, that was the plan. Plan is always to serve well. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes serve is half of the win already."

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