Is it end of an era for Fed Express?

by | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com
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WIMBLEDON, England -- It wasn't as much about Roger Federer losing at Wimbledon, but the way it happened. Federer lost for the first time in his career after taking the first two sets of a match in a Grand Slam tournament.

Unprecedented. Never before in 178 Slams. Or as the delightfully disbelieving young man who stunned Federer, indeed stunned all of tennis, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, would sigh, "Unbelievable."

Then again, as the great Federer approaches his 30th birthday in August and extends his streak in a major without a title to six -- after previously winning an all-time record 16 -- is it so unbelievable?

Perhaps the more appropriate word is inevitable.

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Tsonga, as famous for his resemblance to Muhammad Ali as for his irreverence -- the pirouettes he did on Centre Court would have made Venus Williams envious -- defeated Federer 3-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

And so the Swiss master leaves for another year without equaling the seven men's singles titles earned by both William Renshaw, back in the 19th century, and Pete Sampras from 1993 to 2000.

And so the question arises, just as it did this week with the Williams sisters, who have combined for nine Wimbledons but were eliminated in the fourth round: Is this the end of an era?

"No, I don't think so," said Federer, in denial. "I played too good. It wasn't a shocker, a second-round loss in straight sets, some stupid match I played. It was a great match, I think, from both sides.

"I really did play well, and I also thought Jo played an amazing match, as good as I've seen him play for such a long period of time. That's why there's no reason to look far ahead."

There's a very good reason. The lifespan in tennis seems just a bit longer than that of a mayfly. There's always a kid coming up whose racquet speed and foot speed are what yours used to be, someone such as Tsonga. Although at age 26 he's not quite a kid.

The son of a father from the Congo and a mother from France, Tsonga, born in the famed racing town of Le Mans, is a 200-pounder with an athlete's verve. He reached the final of the 2008 Australian Open, losing to Novak Djokovic, and then 2½ weeks ago was in the final of the Queens event, one of the grass-court warmups, falling to Andy Murray.

Djokovic, the No. 2 seed, will play Tsonga in one of Friday's semifinals, while Murray faces top-seeded Rafael Nadal, the winner here in 2008 and 2010.

"Is it easy for anybody at the moment?" a rhetoric Federer wondered about winning a Slam. "I don't know. I don't think so. I think it's pretty tough for anybody right now to win Grand Slams. But one will win the tournament."

It won't be Federer.

Djokovic said of Tsonga, "It's an amazing comeback ... so you know he's very dangerous. I saw the last couple of games [against Federer]. He's not falling under pressure. And he served really well."

This is of paramount importance on the lawns of the All England Club, even though the serve and volley game isn't as prominent as in the past.

"I don't remember seeing a break point after I broke him in the first game," Federer said. "But I was close."

That's what others used to say when they lost to Federer. They were close. But they weren't winners. Roger always came up with the great passing forehand or key serve. Now he comes up with explanations.

"Except for the score, many things went right," Federer said after being eliminated in the Wimbledon quarters for the second consecutive year. "At least it took a special performance to beat me. He didn't give me many chances, played an amazing match."

Tsonga, whose brother Enzo sat in the friends box wearing a Texas Rangers cap, got his first break of the match in the third set. Then another in the fourth set. Then another in the fifth set. That was enough.

"I change a lot of things in my game," Tsonga said. "Not really in my game, in my mind."

He is seeded No. 12, nine spots below Federer, and is the No. 2 French player behind ninth-seeded Gael Monfils.

"I played three years not far from the top 10 or in the top 10," said Tsonga, whose English is passable if not perfect, "and now I want more. That's why I decide to change some things. I feel good on court. I was quick. Every time I was feeling like a dream. Even at two sets down. ... The stadium was full. It was 6-3, 7-6. I was not ridiculous. I was in my match."

The match he wrenched away from Federer.

"I thought my game was good enough this year to win the tournament," Federer said. "Unfortunately, only one can win and the rest go home empty-handed."

A group now including Roger Federer.

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