Federer's stunning loss could signal the end of an era; more thoughts
Federer's loss to Berdych seemed less like an upset than a dethronement
Berdych has finally matured; it won't surprise anyone if he wins this tournament
Berdych's win over Federer certainly wasn't the only surprise on Wednesday
WIMBLEDON, England -- Three thoughts from Roger Federer's stunning quarterfinal loss to Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon on Wednesday:
1. Down match point to Berdych on Centre Court, Federer played a vintage point. He worked angles, flicked shots to the corner, closed the net and finished it off with an oil painting of a volley. It was one last spasm of brilliance from the King of Wimbledon, the six-time champ who owned the place for the better part of the last decade. A few points later, Berdych pasted still another ground stroke past Federer and closed out what seemed less like an upset than a dethronement, beating the 16-time Grand Slam champion 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.
When Federer loses -- as he did often -- in the spring, it's one thing. When he loses before the semifinals of the French Open, it raises eyebrows. When he loses in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, well, that's something else entirely.
Federer will be a threat to win a major until the day he retires. But when he got a thunderous ovation on his way off the court, you had a sense it was partly an appreciation for an era passing.
2. As long as we're updating scouting reports, it's time pay heed to Berdych. For years -- remember, he knocked Federer out of the Athens Games in 2004! -- we've pegged him as an underachieving head case, in possession of all the gifts and none of the disposition of a champion. Now, in his mid-20s, he has finally matured. After reaching the final of Miami and the semis of the French Open, he again turns in a big result in a big event.
From the first game, he put Federer on his back foot with deep and potent strokes. Most of his serves were belted at 130 mph-plus. And those that weren't were expertly guided out wide. Berdych played aggressive, cutting-edge tennis and closed it out with a poised service game. If he wins two more matches here, it would surprise no one.
3. Time and again Berdych would paste a shot that looked as though it was hitting the back wall on the fly. As the crowd finished groaning, anticipating an error, the ball magically dipped into the court before the baseline. Credit the polyester strings that have found vogue among most top players, but the big hitters in particular. The strings enable the 6-foot-5 Berdych and his colleagues to bludgeon the ball without worrying about destination.
Without taking too much away from Berdych -- or the modern-day player in general -- when will tennis authorities consider the radical effects of "cheating string," as it's been called? Berdych won this match. But an assist to technology. As I tweeted during the fourth set, it sometimes looked like Federer was armed with a pager, Berdych with an iPhone. (More on this below in the mailbag portion...)
Quick analysis on other action at the All England Club:
Federer's loss to Berdych wasn't the only shocker at Wimbledon on Wednesday. With their nemeses, Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic, having been eliminated in the second round, the Bryan brothers had a golden chance to break the doubles titles record at Wimbledon. Yet they faltered. Previously undefeated this year, Venus and Serena Williams lost in the doubles. Even the junior draw packed surprises. Amid the chaos, Rafael Nadal did what was necessary and subdued Robin Soderling in four sets. A few of us were struck by how few tactically incorrect points Nadal plays on grass. He really "gets" the surface, as his record suggests. After the match, Nadal asserted that, with Federer out, there was no favorite. Not quite.
With England out of the World Cup, the nation's sporting attention turned to Andy Murray, who -- all together, everyone! -- is looking to become the first British male to win a major title since the Pleistocene Era. After a shaky first set, he did a number on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, frustrating the Frenchman with clever, tactical tennis and using the crowd to his advantage. Murray still has "a spot of trouble," facing Nadal on Friday. But it should make for a fun atmosphere. And, especially if he serves well, he has a real chance.
Remember Novak Djokovic. About yay tall? Bristly hair? Serbian guy? Wacky impersonator? Not averse to calling for a medical timeouts? Winning in roughly the time it takes to write the name of his opponent, Yen-Hsun Lu, Djokovic was the forgotten man Wednesday. But he's reached yet another major semifinal -- with ease -- and has quietly played some most excellent tennis over the past 10 days. He'll have to do what Federer could not and try to counter the mega-hitting of Berdych. But the Djoker has a real chance to get on the Slam board for the first time in 30 months.
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