I got up early excited for another day of Wimbledon tennis, and especially to see another match in what I hoped would be Roger Federer's run to the final. I had no idea what I was in for. It started with messages coming fast and furious about injuries and withdrawals - Isner, who was injured after two games and had to retire, Azarenka who slipped a couple days ago and withdrew, Nadal's slayer Darcis who hurt his shoulder during that match and now couldn't even serve or hit a forehand. Then I watched Hewitt go out to a truly inspired Dustin Brown, who played the match of his life, Caroline Wozniacki losing after slipping hard in the back of the court, then watched Tsonga go down two sets to one and retired (apparently from a knee injury), then a shocker with Maria Sharapova losing to a virtual unknown after falling three different times in the slippery grass. What a day already. I didn't realize that the biggest shock was yet to come.
Federer's match started off well. I was expecting a pretty routine win so I was watching for when he would take his opportunity for the early break. It soon became obvious, however, that his opponent, Sergiy Stakhovsky, was playing quite well and Roger wasn't really figuring out his service games. Stakhovsky was doing a lot of serve and volley, overall coming to the net almost 100 times during the match. Federer eventually won the first set in a tiebreak and I really thought a break would come quickly in the second set, pretty much settling things from then on. For some reason though Roger just never was able to get into Stakhovsky's service games, and when Stakhovsky was able to take the second set in a tiebreak it wasn't long before he just seemed to have the upper hand. Pretty much everything he was doing was working for him and Fed started to make some errors at critical times, and most importantly wasn't able to capitalize on the few break point chances he had After going down an early break in the 4th, he FINALLY managed to break back, which I thought could change the momentum. I mean, I have watched Roger come back so many times now in important matches that I fully expected him to do it again - why not, he's the 7 time champion. In the eventual 4th set tiebreak (after having break points to win the set at 6-5 that he couldn't take) Stakhovsky continued to play amazingly, using the tactics that had worked for him the whole match. My heart was pounding so hard in my chest I actually had my hand over it to try to slow it down. When Federer was able to save a couple match points and get it back to 5-6, on his serve, once again I thought he could maybe turn it around. But an errant backhand ended the match with a very disappointed Roger coming to the net to congratulate his opponent.
Though I'm certainly not going to say it's the end of an era - as Roger said himself, he hopes to play for many more years to come - it still is the end of one of the things he has been so well known for - his consistency in majors. His streak of 36 consecutive quarterfinals is one of the greatest in sports (not just in tennis). We have seen Rafael Nadal lose in the first round this week, plus miss multiple slams, and Andy Murray not be able to compete in last month's French Open, which already disqualifies them from ever even coming close to a streak like that. While it makes us realize how special it was, it also makes us realize that these early losses will likely come with more frequency now, mixed in with some amazing runs with hopefully a lot more titles (and even more slams hopefully). We knew it would eventually happen but we all wanted to hold onto it for as long as possible. It's always difficult to see something so beautiful come to an end, especially in his own "house" on Centre Court at Wimbledon.
But although very disappointed, Roger didn't sound devastated in his press conference. He talked about working hard and moving forward, and that's the perspective that fans need to have too. And while Wimbledon won't have the same magic for the rest of the fortnight for many, those who are true tennis fans will continue to watch, wondering if maybe something different than the norm can happen this year. So onward we go, many of us with gut wrenching disappointment, but also appreciating this man Roger Federer who has accomplished so much and brought so much joy and tennis beauty to his fans around the world.