Commentary

Improbable loss by Roger Federer

Updated: June 29, 2011, 4:14 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- After yet another blazing serve did not come back across the net, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga fell to his knees, then accepted sincere congratulations from a vanquished Roger Federer. And then there was this: The Frenchman literally skipped across Centre Court and executed a 360-degree leap, punctuated by an emphatic fist pump.

Few gave Tsonga a chance against the six-time Wimbledon champion, but when he slipped into a daunting two-set hole, frankly no one here fancied his chances. Federer, for the record, had won each of the 178 matches in which he had taken the first two sets.

Not this time. Tsonga was magnificent, winning this quarterfinal match 3-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. It was truly a breathtaking upset.

The big three -- Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Federer -- have dominated men's tennis in recent years. They've won 25 of the past 26 majors. Here in Great Britain -- exploiting that home-court advantage -- they factor in Andy Murray and call them the big four. They all made the semifinals at the French Open, and until Wednesday, they were part of a stately, almost royal procession into Wimbledon's final four.

But Tsonga, who has never quite seemed to realize his dazzling potential, and a precocious Australian teenager left grave doubts about the ability of the big four to dominate here.

No. 2 seed Djokovic scuffled to beat Bernard Tomic 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5. Djokovic will meet Tsonga in a Friday semifinal, with the Frenchman holding a surprising 5-2 head-to-head edge.

"It was just amazing," Tsonga said later. "I played unbelievable. Everything was in. I was two sets down, and I broke. I did a good game of return, and after that, it was just amazing. I served unbelievable.

"He's the biggest champion in my sport. He's just the best player in the world."

This, of course, is debatable.

Federer's 16 Grand Slam singles titles place him ahead of all others, but he clearly is no longer playing at that level. He was playing in his 29th consecutive quarterfinal -- a monumental achievement -- but he's lost in three of the past six. Last year at Wimbledon, he fell in the quarterfinals to Tomas Berdych.

[+] EnlargeTsonga
Leon Neal/AFP/Getty ImagesJo-Wilfried Tsonga showed that when free of injury, he can hang with the big boys.

"I'm actually pretty pleased with my performance today," Federer said. "It's kind of hard going out of the tournament that way, but unfortunately it does happen sometimes. At least it took him sort of a special performance to beat me, which is somewhat nice.

"But I think he played an amazing match. Didn't give me many chances. There were some close ones along the way, but he always was able to sneak out on me."

How good was Tsonga? After losing his first service game of the match, he held serve 24 times in a row. He has now beaten Federer and Nadal (Queen's Club) on grass this month.

Tsonga has always had the talent, but injuries have dogged him over the years. Now, at 26, he's injury-free and playing the beautiful game that was once predicted for him. Tsonga has been to one major final; he lost in four sets to Djokovic at the 2008 Australian Open.

Tomic, meanwhile, seems poised to deliver on all the predictions of greatness ahead of schedule.

Twenty-six years ago, a red-haired, red-cheeked German named Boris Becker crashed the party here at Wimbledon. He was 17. He won the title and repeated the following year. Thirty-four years ago, John McEnroe was a semifinalist at the age of 18.

Tomic is 18.

At 6-foot-4, he has a long frame, which adds heft to his serve. His forehand is pure and easy. His backhand slice is a thing of beauty. Perhaps more than anything, his decision-making is exquisite. The grass at Wimbledon accentuates all of these gifts.

Born in Germany to Croatian parents, Tomic has been on the radar for several years but, really, he has come out of nowhere.

Before this tournament, he had played only 23 ATP World Tour-level matches (losing 15) and failed to win a single title. His rank coming in was No. 158. His ranking was so low he was forced to qualify. In the third set of his first-round qualifying match against Sebastian Rieschick, Tomic was down on his serve 15-40 at 4-all, but rallied to win the last two games.

In the third round Tomic beat No. 5 seed Robin Soderling, and won seven straight matches overall, before succumbing to Djokovic, who is into his second straight semifinal here at the All England Club.

"It's Novak, so it will be difficult," Tsonga said. "It's the semis and I have my chance anyways. I will try to come on the court as I did today."

Oddsmakers had recently installed Tsonga as a 33-to-1 long shot. Federer, on the other hand, was the favorite. Coming off an appearance in the finals at Roland Garros, it was widely believed he would tie Pete Sampras' record of seven Wimbledon titles.

Federer was one of those who believed.

"I thought my game was plenty good enough this year to win the tournament," said. "Unfortunately, there's only one that can win it, and the rest go home empty-handed. That's what happened to me today.

"But the game is there. I'm happy. I'm healthy. I feel much better than sort of a year ago. That's very encouraging, really. Even though I took a tough loss today, I don't feel, you know, discouraged in any way. I think that's key right now, to not let anything get to me."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.