Roger Federer played against two opponents on Wednesday on Wimbledon's Centre Court: Hubert Hurkacz of Poland was on the other side of the net and Federer was also battling the inexorable opponent of time. Neither of them treated him particularly well. In what was for him a shockingly disappointing defeat, Federer fell in straight sets, 6-3, 7-6(4), 6-0, the final set being the first time he's ever been bageled at Wimbledon.
Playing his last major in his 30s—Federer turns 40 on August 8th—he's left to consider this stinging result and where he goes from here. On Wednesday, after four wins—all of which varied in quality, but entailed his winning the three necessary sets—he looked his age today. One point that typified the match: at 3-2 in the second set tiebreaker, Federer set up for a put-away volley—the kind of shot he makes a thousand times out of a thousand in his career. But this time the Centre Court, which has served him so well over the last 20 years, was his enemy. He slipped on the titanium chalk near the net, lost his footing and barely got a racket on the ball. It was one point out of more than 200, but it was a fulcrum for the match. After that embarrassment, he never won another game.
By the end, there was a murmur in the crowd as fans wondered aloud what millions wondered at home: Whether this was the last time we would see Federer at this venue. After the match, he was measured as ever and refused to indulge all the guesswork about his future. He said he would take a few days, he may or may not play the Olympics, and wouldn’t commit to playing Wimbledon in 2022 at the preposterous age of 40—but he didn't rule it out either. On the bright side, he did extend his record of reaching a Grand Slam quarterfinal to 19 years, more than any other player in the Open Era. But on Wednesday in the quarterfinals, he looked like a man in need of teleporting back to his prime. Federer has won more than 1,200 matches in his glorious career, but the sport's cliché that time is undefeated rang true today.
For all the speculation about Federer, let's give credit to Hurkacz. The 24-year-old came to Wimbledon on a six-match losing streak and has looked like a world beater since setting foot on the grass here. He finished up his fourth-round match on Tuesday at Centre Court and this was a disguised blessing. He may have lacked a day off, but that meant he didn't have an extra day to think about the prospect of playing the mighty Federer on mighty Centre Court. Instead, he came in on the high from his play yesterday, closing out his match and was terrific against the eight-time Wimbledon champ Federer, hitting 36 winners against just 12 unforced errors and very much looking like the better player—and of course the younger player.
Apart from Federer's mortality, the other great takeaway from quarterfinal Wednesday was that this is Novak Djokovic's tournament to lose. Seeking the third phase of his quest for the Grand Slam, he's five sevenths of the way there. Djokovic lost his very first set of the tournament to the young British wildcard Jack Draper. Since then, he hasn't dropped a set. Today's quarterfinals victim in straight sets was Hungary's Márton Fucsovics. It basically looked like Djokovic playing the off-the-rack brand of himself. Fucsovics did nothing that Djokovic couldn't do better, and while he fought gamely, Djokovic won in three sets.
There are still two matches to be played. But with Rafael Nadal absent and Federer now out of the event, the Big Three is looking like the Big One.
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