Roger Federer had the opportunities. None bigger than match point in the third set. Two hours later, Federer had squandered a two-set lead, shocked in a Wimbledon quarterfinals marathon by No. 8 seed Kevin Anderson.
“I had my chances and blew them,” said Federer, who lost a Wimbledon match in which he had a match point for the first time. “It was just one of those days where you hope to get by somehow. I almost could have. So it’s disappointing.”
Federer lost from two sets up for just the fifth time in his career — and third at a Grand Slam — falling 6-2, 7-6 (5), 5-7, 4-6, 13-11 to the 6-foot-8 South African on Wednesday. It’s Federer’s earliest exit from Wimbledon since 2013.
“Not quite sure what to say right now,” Anderson, 32 and a former University of Illinois standout. “Beating Roger Federer here at Wimbledon will be one that I remember, especially in such a close match. I just kept on telling myself, ‘I have to keep believing.’ I kept saying that today was going to be my day, because you really need that mindset taking the court against somebody like Roger. If you go out there with doubts or unsure what’s going to happen, like I maybe did a little bit in that first set, it’s not going to go your way.”
Anderson plays 33-year-old, 6-foot-10-inch American John Isner in Friday’s semifinals. Isner ousted 2016 Wimbledon runner-up Milos Raonic 6-7 (5), 7-6 (7), 6-4, 6-3 to make his first Grand Slam semifinal in his 41st try.
“Pure elation right now,” said Isner, who has called Wimbledon his “house of horrors” since beating Nicolas Mahut 70-68 in that 2010 ultra marathon, never getting past the third round until now.
The other semifinal pits Rafael Nadal against Novak Djokovic, who own a combined five Wimbledon titles. Nadal, the No. 2 seed, outlasted No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro 7-5, 6-7 (7), 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in a 4-hour, 48-minute epic (same time as his 2008 Wimbledon epic win over Federer). Djokovic got past No. 24 Kei Nishikori 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 in the quarterfinals.
The top seed Federer, an eight-time Wimbledon champion, appeared to have his match all but won after two hours. He had a match point on Anderson’s serve in the third set.
But the 2017 U.S. Open finalist rose to the occasion, then snapped Federer’s record-tying streak of 34 straight Wimbledon sets won.
“At that point, I wasn’t thinking about losing,” Federer said. “I’m up two sets to one, it’s all good.”
But Anderson had found his game, going unbroken on serve through the last three sets en route to his first Wimbledon semifinal.
Anderson, after losing all of his previous eight sets against Federer, dispatched the 20-time Grand Slam champion in 4 hours, 14 minutes. It’s Anderson’s biggest win outside of reaching his one and only Grand Slam final in New York last year.
“After that [first set] I never really felt exactly 100 percent,” Federer said. “One of those average days you have to try and win the match, and I couldn’t get it done today.”
It marked Federer’s second-longest Grand Slam match by games after his 16-14, fifth-set win over Andy Roddick in the 2009 Wimbledon final.
This loss was all the more shocking given Federer’s resurgence since the start of 2017, rising from No. 17 in the world (his lowest rank since 2001) to become the oldest No. 1 in history at age 36 while winning three Grand Slam titles (his first since 2012).
Before Wednesday, Federer’s last dropped set at the All England Club came in his 2016 semifinal loss to Canadian Milos Raonic, who later Wednesday lost a four-set quarterfinal to American John Isner 6-7 (5), 7-6 (7), 6-4, 6-3.
Next up for Anderson is the 6-foot-10 Isner, into his first Grand Slam semifinal in his 41st try. For Federer, he said it could take “a while” to get over this defeat or “half an hour.”
“Maybe the losses hurt more [at Wimbledon],” he said. “I don’t want to sit here and explain my loss. That’s the worst feeling you can have as a tennis player.”
He may also dwell on this fact: If Nadal wins Wimbledon, he will be within two Grand Slam titles of Federer’s record (20 to 18) for the first time since 2004, when Federer had two and Nadal had none. And Nadal is nearly five years younger than Federer.
As if Federer needed any more motivation to reclaim his Wimbledon crown next year.
“I wouldn’t call it unfinished business,” he said. “I feel like I did some good business in the past here already. So I’m all right. Just disappointed.”
Wimbledon continues Thursday with the women’s semifinals: Serena Williams vs. German Julia Görges and two-time Grand Slam winner Angelique Kerber vs. 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.
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