Roger Federer, perhaps the greatest of all Wimbledonians, maybe even the greatest of all tennis players, had to pack his bags and say goodbye to the circus on Wednesday after being sensationally beaten on centre court.
His conqueror was Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, an exuberant Frenchman with the looks of the young Muhammad Ali but more joie de vivre. His dance of delight after he won was of a kind more often seen after midnight at Glastonbury. “I’m so happy,” he said. “It’s crazy.”
It was certainly that. Federer had gone two sets up, a position from which he has never lost in any grand slam event. Everyone was yawning and assuming the inevitable.
Then the world turned upside down.
The other three members of the men’s tennis big four all reached their appointed places in Friday’s semi-finals. Britain’s Andy Murray will face the formidable barrier of Rafael Nadal there for the second year running. Novak Djokovic plays Tsonga, who will have the gratitude of all the others for upending Federer.
None of the stars had a straightforward day, but Murray – the only one not to lose a set – went about his business with less fuss or muddle than any of the others. The weight of national expectancy, which has crushed every male British contender at Wimbledon for the past 75 years, is about to become overwhelming.
It may or may not be the start of a new British era (probably not). It really does seem like the end of the Federer era. He will be back, no doubt, but perhaps never again will he induce quite the same terror in the opposition. Champion six times, he was beaten in the quarter-finals last year but until Wednesday he was still the favourite to win again. And he insisted he was playing well: “I’m happy with the way my game’s going. Unfortunately I’m out.”
The operation was successful, as the surgeons say, but the patient died.
Tsonga, born in Le Mans and with a Congolese father, is the number 12 seed and a player of occasional heights rather than the tedious consistency that wins big tournaments. He refused to make mistakes on serve and induced just enough errors from Federer.
Murray had a comparatively easy draw against the unseeded Spaniard Feliciano Lopez.
But Lopez failed to live up even to his modest expectations: his claque on the sidelines seemed far more vibrant than he did. Murray had no problems until he tweaked his hip in the final set and even then was able to hold on easily enough, and finished with three successive aces.
Nadal, who could create a drama out of beating a novice on a park court, seemed to be coasting against the American Mardy Fish, who sounds like a 1970s’ rock band and looks as if he played in one. But Nadal insisted on losing the third set before completing the job.
Djokovic struggled even more, against 18-year-old Australian Bernard Tomic, the youngest Wimbledon quarter-finalist since Boris Becker 25 years ago.
Tomic had to qualify for the tournament with the also-rans of the circuit on the unnoticed courts at Roehampton. One of his roles in life is acting as Djokovic’s practice partner. But he almost took the match to two sets all before caving in. We have heard the last of Tomic for the moment, but not for long, one suspects. The later stages of Wimbledon have not been the same lately without an Aussie in sight. The next Federer? This could be the kid.