There will be endless analysis about why and how Roger Federer lost, 3-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Wimbledon quarterfinals, but the bottom line is he got beat. After looking as though the match was very much in control for the six-time Wimbledon champion—he won the second-set tiebreak in a walk, 7-3, after leading it 5-0—Federer got a little sloppy serving at 1-1 in the third set.
The first point of that game was a terrific backhand pass by Tsonga, and the second was a missed backhand volley into the net by Federer. When Tsonga eventually got the break and then served out the set, it still seemed highly likely that Federer would rebound and finish off the match in four sets—five at the max. After all, he was 178-0 when winning the first two sets in Slams.
But the supremely-athletic Tsonga had taken flight. He was gunning everything and his consistency with such high-risk ground strokes was a marvel. Remarkably, he never dipped in his level from then on. He broke again in the third game of the fourth set, finishing it off with an inside-out, cross-court forehand that was a rocket. He also began to serve well and held the rest of the set with ease.
That set up the fifth set, with Federer’s streak on the line. Tsonga sent a message right off the bat, continuing to blast his forehand. He got the break in the very first game with a deep, forcing forehand, with Federer’s reply winding up in the net.
All Federer could really do then was wait out the storm, and hope for a patch of poor play from the Frenchman to get the break back. But it never came. In fact, Federer’s only break point came in Tsonga’s very first service game, at 1-0 in the opening set; the Swiss converted it with style, with a scalpel-sliced backhand drop-volley winner.
As the fifth set progressed, Federer maintained his cool and tried as best he could, but the signs of some resignation finally came with Tsonga serving at 3-2, when the Swiss lamely missed a backhand down the line on game point. In Tsonga’s next service game, Federer made weak forehand errors on the second and fourth points. When Federer lost a volley exchange at the net on the first point of Tsonga’s final service game, it was apparent the Frenchman’s fantastic form wouldn’t be denied. Three points later, the match was over when a Federer backhand service return went long.
It was small consolation for Federer that he won 146 points to Tsonga’s 136, but it still showed that the match was very evenly contested. “I think Jo played great,” Federer said. “I thought I played a good match myself. I’m actually pretty pleased with my performance today. At least it took him a special kind of performance to be me. I think he played an amazing match.”
It was interesting that Tsonga also used the same word in describing his performance. “I was two sets down and I break and I had a good return game,” he said. “After that it was it was just amazing—I just played unbelievable, served unbelievable.”
Tsonga put on a mindboggling performance like this once before, in the 2008 Australian Open semifinals, when he ambushed Rafael Nadal, 6-2, 6-3, 6-2. Federer has now been on the receiving ends of what the English call a “blinder,” so he knows how it feels as well.