Written by: Michael Emmett
***Michael Emmett is the Director of Tennis Operations at all Mayfair clubs. He is a certified Tennis Canada Coach 3 with a Journalism degree from the University of Texas. Michael spent several years working in sports television at TSN and Sportsnet. Michael is a former National champion who finished his last year of junior tennis ranked #1 in Canada. Michael has coached several National champions when he worked for the All-Canadian Academy at the National Tennis Centre at York University in the early 90s. Michael spent 2 years traveling the world playing the ATP tour satellite circuit as a member of the Molson National Team in 1985 and ’86.***
It was truly a breathtaking upset. One the tennis community will be talking about for a long long time.
With many big events still on the horizon, tennis has seen its one defining moment in 2011. Nothing will supplant the memory of Roger blowing his first ever 2-set to love lead in a major championship in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon yesterday.
No matter what happens in the remaining matches at Wimbledon, or this year’s US Open or our own Rogers Cup – the loss yesterday from what seemed to be an insurmountable lead will stay with me for as long as I’m a tennis fan. And I hope it’s not the way Roger will be remembered when he finally hangs up his racquet.
The sporting community has a terrible habit of isolating certain events (good or bad) and labeling them to the athletes forever. Bill Buckner’s horrific mistake cost the Red Sox the World Series in 1986 and he will never be able to erase that memory. Jana Novotna had a Hall of Fame career but she is only remembered for blowing a 4-1 third set lead against Steffi Graf.
Fed’s loss to Tsonga is on par with Rafa losing to Soderling at the French Open in 2009. Both results were jaw dropping moments that will be remembered as some of the greatest upsets in tennis history. However, for me the Federer loss is more stunning because he comfortably led two sets to love and looked in complete control 90 minutes into the match. Roger blowing a two sets to love lead just doesn’t happen – he is the greatest front-runner the game has ever seen. Very similar to his good buddy Tiger Woods. El Tigre had never blown a lead entering the final round of a major championship until he was shockingly caught by Y.E. Yang in the PGA championship in 2009.
Absolutely mind-boggling! Almost impossible given the circumstances – here are the factors that made Federer’s loss such a stunning result:
- Roger was 178-0 when leading 2 sets to love – the odds of a Federer loss to a player ranked well below him (with a 2 set lead) would have been .005%
- Rogers is a 6-time champion at Wimbledon and was the favourite this year based on his stellar play in Paris leading up to this championship.
- Grass is supposed to be his favourite surface – although with back-to-back losses in the quarter-finals (last year he lost to Berdych) and the lawns playing like a fast clay court – this may no longer be the case.
- Roger had massive motivation to win his 7th title and tie the all-time record with Pete Sampras.
- Roger owns Centre Court at the All-England Club – this court has meant as much to him as Stade Roland Garros has meant to Rafa.
- Tsonga was on the ropes after playing a horrendous second set tie-break. The commentators, viewers, patrons and players (maybe not Tsonga) had already started talking about a French Open semi-final rematch with Djokovic.
I keep coming back to the fact that Federer was playing so beautifully at the French Open…..how does one explain how lethargically he looked in the last two sets vs. Tsonga on grass – his best surface in the world? I’ve seen him look this way, at times, on clay vs. his nemesis Rafael Nadal. But never before on grass! He looked passive, slow, indifferent, and, at moments resigned.
His serve returns were sitters for Tsonga to tee off on. His first serve percentage dropped drastically. He seemed to lose his will to fight. It’s hard to write – but the greatest player of all-time looked feeble, withdrawn and outclassed in his own backyard. We expected more from the 6-time champion. Yes, Tsonga played great. But if Federer played the way he had been playing in the first 3 matches and maintained his intensity the match would have been over in straight sets. Federer never complained of an injury in his post match press conference – however, mental fatigue seemed to be a major contributor to his unexpected collapse.
It’s worth repeating – for the first time in his entire career; Federer lost a match in which he had won the first two sets. (He had been 178-0). But Tsonga outlasted him 3-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. Tsonga had a fantastic match – undoubtedly the best of his career. His serve was superb. But, still, no one felt Federer would lose yesterday, especially after winning the first 2 sets.
The big three — Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Federer — have dominated men’s tennis in recent years. They’ve won 25 of the past 26 majors. Across the pond, in Great Britain — exploiting that home-court advantage — they factor in Andy Murray and call them the big four. They all made the semifinals at the French Open, and until Wednesday, they were part of a stately, almost royal procession into Wimbledon’s final four.
Never before have the top 4 players made it to the semi-finals in back-to-back grand slams – all 4 stampeded their way to the semi-finals in Paris and they were one win away from repeating the feat in London – but Tsonga ruined the party and kept that remarkable stat alive for yet one more season. I guess there’s a reason why the top 4 players in the world can’t make it to the semi-finals in consecutive grand slams – because there is so much depth on the ATP tour.
Federer’s 16 Grand Slam singles titles place him ahead of all others, but he clearly is no longer playing at that level. He was playing in his 29th consecutive quarterfinal — a monumental achievement — but he’s lost in three of the past six (two in a row at Wimbledon).
At one point in his career he had made it to 23 consecutive semi-finals in grand slam events – a record that – in my opinion – will never be broken. Federer like Tiger Woods is all about history – winning major championships is all that matters at this point in their respective careers. Tiger has 14 and Roger has 16! The big question is – can either one of these two iconic superstars win another major and shut up the critics who believe they are both finished? I don’t know the answer to this but I do know that it will be fun to keep watching.