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September 29, 2021
Sport

Roger Federer Loses at Wimbledon, Maybe for the Last Time

WIMBLEDON, England — If this was the end for Roger Federer at Wimbledon, it seemed far from fitting.

He has enchanted so many on Centre Court, the most famous patch of grass in tennis, but on Wednesday the magic was missing as he shanked forehands, misjudged volleys and in the most out-of-character moments, struggled with his balance and footwork.

He has won and lost thrillers against the greats of the game at the All England Club: Pete Sampras, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

But in this quarterfinal, he was beaten, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-0, in just 1 hour and 49 minutes by Hubert Hurkacz, a rising Polish player who had never been past the third round at any Grand Slam event until this tournament.

Federer, 39 years old and playing on postoperative knees, did not confirm that this was his final appearance at Wimbledon, but he also did not rule out the possibility.

“I’m actually very happy I made it as far as I did here, and I actually was able to play Wimbledon at the level that I did after everything I went through,” Federer said. “Of course I would like to play it again; but at my age, you’re just never sure what’s around the corner.”

Federer, a student of the game who has won a record eight Wimbledon men’s singles titles, knows very well that happy endings are no guarantee on grass or on any other surface. His boyhood role models Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg and Sampras all went out early in their last Wimbledons.

“It’s not much fun,” Federer said of Wednesday’s lopsided defeat. “But I experienced so many incredible things here that it’s OK. It’s part of the game.”

Wimbledon will go forward this year without him, and Friday’s semifinals will match No. 1-seeded Djokovic against No. 10 Denis Shapovalov; and the 14th-seeded Hurkacz against No. 7 Matteo Berrettini.

Djokovic, a five-time Wimbledon champion who is still in contention for the Grand Slam this season, defeated Marton Fucsovics 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 Wednesday to underscore his status as the strong favorite. The other semifinalists have never advanced this far at Wimbledon. Shapovalov, a Canadian left-hander with a live arm and a flashy game, won the most compelling match of the quarterfinals, rallying to defeat No. 25 Karen Khachanov 6-4, 3-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-4. Berrettini, a barrel-chested Italian with power to spare, defeated Shapovalov’s compatriot Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-3, 5-7, 7-5, 6-3.

But the big surprise was delivered by Hurkacz, a good-natured Pole who is based at Saddlebrook Academy in Wesley Chapel, Florida, and has an American coach, Craig Boynton. Both had to recover from contracting COVID-19 this spring after Hurkacz won the Miami Open in April.

“It hit me hard,” Boynton said. “But for Hubie, it was just enough for a wobble.”

Hurkacz missed no tournaments, but he did go into a slump before arriving at Wimbledon, losing six straight matches, one of them to Dominic Stricker, a teenager from Switzerland who is taking his first steps on tour.

On Wednesday, Hurkacz outplayed Switzerland’s most famous citizen. Federer, who was seeded sixth at Wimbledon, has long been Hurkacz’s tennis idol. In their only previous singles match, Federer beat him 6-4, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, in 2019.

But a Wimbledon quarterfinal is a much grander occasion, and Hurkacz, to his credit, handled the moment with controlled power and poise.

“Obviously, I was a little bit nervous,” Hurkacz said. “I mean, playing against Roger in a Grand Slam quarterfinal, it’s a very big thing for me. But I was trying to stay as calm as I could.”

He and Boynton talked at length before the match about the mental game. “When you play Roger, you play not only Roger but the aura of Roger,” Boynton said. “You play the fans, and I wanted to hammer home the fact that no one wants to see Roger leave or say goodbye, so there will be a lot of noise and a lot of cheering.”

Federer said he would take some time to determine whether he will compete at the Tokyo Olympics. As usual, he will consult at length with his coaches Ivan Ljubicic and Severin Lüthi and fitness trainer Pierre Paganini.

“I said everything waits till Wimbledon is done,” Federer said. “Wimbledon is done now. I haven’t taken a decision yet where we go from here.”

He first played at Wimbledon in 1998, winning the boys’ singles and doubles titles, and became a star in 2001 by upsetting Sampras in the fourth round in his first match on Centre Court. In 2003, he won his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, defeating Mark Philippoussis in the final.

Although Federer is Swiss, Wimbledon has long felt like home turf with the largely British crowd warming to his elegant game and understated on-court presence. He has experienced great success here but also great disappointment. In the 2008 final, he lost to his younger rival Nadal in one of the best matches ever played. In the 2019 final, he was unable to convert two match points on his way to a defeat against Djokovic.

The match, one of the most deflating of his long career, could have been his last at Wimbledon. Instead, he chose to play on despite having two knee surgeries in 2020 and experiencing the long hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic.

Returning to Wimbledon was his biggest motivation as he pushed himself through rehabilitation, and although he was the oldest man since Ken Rosewall of Australia in 1977 to reach the quarterfinals, he could not go deeper.

“I felt very disappointed in the moment itself.” Federer said. “I still am. At the same time, there’s always a weight that falls off your shoulders when a tournament is over, when a huge goal is made or missed. It doesn’t matter actually. You feel the weight is gone, and you’re exhausted.”

Federer has long made tennis look easy, but that was not the case on Wednesday. Although he has often glided across the grass as if it were a dance floor, it seemed as slippery for him as it has for many others these last 10 days.

After losing the first set, he failed to maintain a 4-1 lead in the second, mis-hitting his shots and failing to return Hurkacz’s big first serve consistently. He finished the match with 18 unforced errors on his forehand and won only 35% of his second-serve points.

Hurkacz, 24, like Federer, is an all-court player with fine volleys. He also has a big serve and flat baseline power that helps him keep the ball low on grass. But it was still quite a shock to see Federer lose in straight sets at Wimbledon for the first time in 19 years.

The second-set tiebreaker was decisive. Hurkacz started it with a fast-twitch forehand passing shot winner on Federer’s serve. At 2-2, Federer missed a forehand swing volley in the net, and on the next point, he had control but missed another high volley after his right foot slipped on the grass.

Hurkacz closed out the tiebreaker and calmly ate a banana before securing the third set in just 29 minutes.

As Federer faded, the faithful on Centre Court who have cheered him for so long grew more urgent in their support.

“You got this!” one fan shouted as Federer went down another break point.

The more desperate began cheering Hurkacz’s groundstroke errors, and there were even a few claps for one of Hurkacz’s missed first serves, a rarity at Wimbledon.

But such extraordinary measures were of little help. Federer’s increasingly frequent gaffes elicited gasps that turned to sighs as the crowd grew more resigned to the outcome.

“Are you feeling OK?” one fan shouted as Federer, down 0-4, chose not to challenge a close call.

There was a loud ovation as Federer stepped to the line to serve down, 0-5, with many fans standing. But five points later, it was over as Federer missed his last forehand wide. He glumly packed his bags without delay and waved to the crowd with a brief pirouette before he walked off the grass and returned to the clubhouse, head slightly bowed and a bag slung over each shoulder.

“One more year! One more year!” pleaded one fan as he disappeared from view.

That will be up to Federer, who will turn 40 in August.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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