The dream is over. If it was always unlikely that Roger Federer might somehow manage to win a record ninth title at Wimbledon at the age of 39, the events of the first week or so had turned many doubters into believers. On a breezy afternoon, reality kicked back in as the Swiss was beaten 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-0 by Hubert Hurkacz, a Pole for whom Federer was an inspiration.
Hurkacz, the 14th seed, appearing in his first Grand Slam quarter-final compared to the 58 of Federer, showed no nerves, no inferiority complex and as the man who has dominated these courts so many times faded, he ruthlessly finished the job.
“I don’t know what to say,” Hurkacz said. “It’s super-special for me, to play on this court. Playing against Roger, when you’re a kid, it’s like a dream come true.”
Federer was cheered to the hilt by the Centre Court crowd, who did everything they could to lift him one more time. He led 4-1 in the second set but couldn’t close it out. In the third, his spirit was broken.
It was a remarkable performance from Hurkacz, who served notice of his talent when he won the prestigious Miami Open in March, but then lost his way, winning a match at the following event in Monte Carlo before losing five in a row.
Coming into Wimbledon, few had Hukacz on their radar. The 24-year-old had never made it past the third round of a Grand Slam before but having taken out the No 2 seed Daniil Medvedev in five sets in the previous round, he went into his match with Federer carrying plenty of confidence.
After his escape in the first round when an injury to Adrian Mannarino let him off the hook, trailing two sets to one, Federer had grown with every match and thoughts were already turning to Ken Rosewall, the last 39-year-old to reach the final here, in 1974.
Rosewall had reached out to Federer with a message of support before his quarter-final but after the dynamism of his previous match, the 20-times Grand Slam champion seemed a little flat, his ball-striking not as crisp as usual, his movement not as sharp on a day when the wind made life tricky for both.
Hurkacz played smart tennis, too. At 6ft 5in, the Pole’s serve is always a big weapon but his drop shots were equally impressive and the way he managed to get his returns on to the Federer backhand meant the Swiss was rarely allowed to dominate.
Federer won just 33 per cent of points on his second serve – about half his usual figure – and Hurkacz had him on the rack from the start. The warning signs were there early on as Federer saved three break points for 2-2 in the first set and he was then broken two games later as the set drifted away.
The arena, by then almost completely full, did its best to get behind their man and he responded, breaking serve for 2-0 and extending his lead to 4-1. But it never looked entirely secure and Hurkacz continued to pressure his second serve, breaking back for 4-3.
The set went to a tie-break, usually the domain of Federer, who tops the all-time tie-break statistics. But Hurkacz ripped a forehand pass to earn an early mini-break and though Federer got it back, at 2-3, the Swiss slipped at the net, turning an easy volley into another mistake. It proved costly as Hurkacz finished it off 7-4 to double his lead.
Federer has come from two sets down 10 times in his career, including at the same stage here in 2016, when he recovered to beat Marin Cilic. It never looked like he would make it 11, though, and after he dropped serve in the second game, the set and the match drifted away.
After his final forehand flew wide, Federer managed a smile for his opponent and as he left the court, with a wave to the crowd, it was hard to imagine that might be the last time he steps out on Centre Court.
This was just Federer’s fifth event of 2021, having only returned in March after 13 months out following two knee surgeries that took longer to recover from than he had hoped. He is due to play in the Olympics and US Open this summer and after 20 Grand Slam titles, 103 singles titles and so much success on his beloved grass, he will surely not want to say goodbye to Wimbledon like this.
Hurkacz will face Italian Matteo Berrettini for a place in Sunday’s final. The 25-year-old seventh seed beat Canadian 20-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-3 5-7 7-5 6-3 on Court One. – Guardian