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Roger and out: Federer in earliest Slam exit since 2003

Roger Federer keeps a watchful eye on Centre Court.
by Kate Battersby
Wednesday 26 June 2013

Stop all the clocks. For the first time in 37 Grand Slam events – nine years – the quarter-final stage will take place without Roger Federer’s name among the participants. In fact, never mind the last eight – at Wimbledon 2013 the seven-time champion did not get as far as the last 32. Sergiy Stakhovsky, ranked 116, won through to the third round for the first time in his career by confounding the Swiss with an energetic display of serve-volley tennis. In front of an increasingly disbelieving Centre Court crowd, the 27-year-old journeyman won 6-7(5), 7-6(5), 7-5, 7-6(5). After everything else on the third day of Wimbledon 2013, no wonder John McEnroe called it “one of the all-time craziest days in Wimbledon history”.

“I’m still in disbelief that actually happened,” said Stakhovsky. “Magic. Beating Roger on his court where he is a legend is special. He’s the greatest player, the biggest name, and a decent man everyone admires. I couldn’t play any better. I played my best tennis and still it was almost not enough to beat Roger Federer. When you play him at Wimbledon, you play two people – you play Roger Federer, and then you also play his ego and his Centre Court history. I just hoped he wouldn’t get too far ahead of me so I would have a chance to stay in the match and that’s what happened. I got a little tight in the fourth set but I did everything I needed to and wanted to. I’m incredibly happy.”

How quaint to recall that at the start of the match the biggest crisis facing Federer was his choice of footwear. The orange-soled shoes the No.3 seed wore for his first round match on Monday were deemed to break Wimbledon’s predominantly white rule. Perhaps the orange shoes were to Federer as hair was to Samson, such was his apparent confusion in the face of Stakhovsky’s game.

There is an air of cheerful chaos about the Ukrainian. Richard Gasquet described him as “one of the funniest guys on the Tour” after his first round win over Stakhovsky at Roland Garros last month, where Stakhovsky took such issue with a line call that he used his mobile phone to photograph the mark on the clay court, and tweeted a picture to his 10,000 followers.

Perhaps this air of playfulness contributed to the feeling throughout the match against Federer that he must surely run out of mental steam at any moment. But he never quite did. True, he is one of the few players with a grass court title to his name, having won ’s-Hertogenbosch three years ago. But it pales somewhat next to Federer’s 13 titles on the green stuff, and his seven Wimbledons. Prior to this match, the highest-ranked player Stakhovsky had ever beaten was Marcos Baghdatis in 2010, when the Cypriot was No.18.

The first set was met with polite delight. The idea that Stakhovsky was giving Federer a good match was charming entertainment given that it turned out as form dictated, with Federer edging the breaker. But in the second he continued taking the fight to the Swiss, producing classic serve-volley stuff. His second serve was particularly prosperous, in marked contrast to Federer’s. It was 5-5 in the second before the Swiss could earn his first break point of the match but good serving got Stakhovsky out of trouble. Into the breaker and this time a Federer mishit gave his opponent set point. Stakhovsky volleyed the match level.

Despite the fact that it was their beloved Federer on court, the crowd were warming to Stakhovsky’s energetic style, particularly as it meant the tennis was rattling along at an extraordinary lick. Three times in the third set he fended off break point, until at 5-5 a backhand shank from Federer handed over the break. It was enough.

Far from tiring, Stakhovsky was more energised than ever. He forced a mistake from Federer at the net to break for 2-1, and produced great defence to fend off two break points from the Swiss. Then, with an extraordinary victory looming large on the horizon, it was as if Stakhovsky caught sight of his own reflection and was momentarily thrown – at 3-2 he netted tamely and at the seventh attempt, Federer converted a break point, to get it back on serve. At 6-5 Federer held set point to level the match, but Stakhovsky rebutted it in style to head into the tiebreak. When Federer could not persuade his backhand over the net, it gave Stakhovsky two match points. A superb passing shot saved the first, but on the second Federer’s backhand drifted wide, taking his hopes of an unprecedented eighth title here with it. Stakhovsky fell to the turf, then tipped an invisible hat to all four corners of the crowd. Four rip-roaring sets had lasted three hours dead, and Federer was out.

“The 24-hour rule applies,” said the vanquished. “Don’t panic at this point. Go back to work and come back stronger. Usually I do turnarounds pretty good. This is clearly not what I was hoping for here. He was uncomfortable to play against, but I expected serve-and-volley because he often does it. Credit to him for closing it out under enormous pressure. I’m very disappointed I couldn’t find a way to win. I had opportunities, a foot in the door, but I couldn’t do it. I wish [the 36 quarter-finals] were not going to end here but I have no choice other than to accept it and move on. It doesn’t feel like the end of an era for me because I still have plans to play for many more years to come. Some finals haven’t hurt this much. At least having lost I didn’t have to go through a trophy ceremony with this one.”

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