ROGER FEDERER was waiting for the pain he normally associates with defeat to kick in last night as he left Wimbledon.
Beaten by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-finals, and with one of his most remarkable runs brought to a crushing end, Federer was numbed by defeat but the distress which has accompanied previous losses on Centre Court was strangely absent.
Federer put it down to the performance of Tsonga, who became the first man Federer had lost to in a grand slam from a two-set start.
After winning 178 matches from two ahead in best-of-five contests, Federer seemed certain to reach number 179 when he breezed through the opener against Tsonga in 27 minutes and added the next on a tie-break. But Tsonga’s improvement in that second set had been marked, and rather than fold in the next he grew in strength, and his serve became increasingly unplayable.
Federer’s standards hardly slipped, but his opponent was playing the kind of destructive tennis he has always been capable of but fleetingly produced.
It resulted in Federer losing 3-6 6-7 (3/7) 6-4 6-4 6-4, a year since Tomas Berdych beat him in four sets at the same stage.
“I think this one for some reason is going to be easier to digest than last year’s defeat,” Federer said. “Even though this one was in five sets and I was up two sets to love, I don’t really feel like I lost from two sets to love up.
“It’s a strange feeling because I played well. I can’t blame my poor returning or my poor serving or my poor movement or anything like that in this match, and that makes it, I think, a bit easier to digest. Who knows, maybe it’s going to hurt me more in three days. I doubt it. I’ll be able to move on quickly.”
Tsonga produced his victory dance to delight a Centre Court crowd who had been enthralled by the fightback from the Frenchman with a Congolese background.
Last night Tsonga sized up the scale of his achievement, as he began to look ahead to a semi-final with Novak Djokovic.
“I was just perfect today,” Tsonga said.
“I served just unbelievably. But in the match before I felt really confident on this shot. I hope it will continue.”
He rained down 12 aces against David Ferrer in the fourth round; yesterday it was 18 to Federer’s 17. Tsonga’s spirit was unbreakable.
“I think I’ve improved a lot mentally,” he said.
“I’m the kind of player who likes these big moments. So I hope I will have some more.
“It’s special to beat Roger Federer in a quarter-final here on this big court. The feeling is like maybe beating Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.”
And of course Tsonga is two steps away from a first grand slam title.
“Can you win Wimbledon?” was the question.
“Why not?” the reply.