London: Like the rest of the sporting world, it seems that even Roger Federer cannot fathom that he actually lost at Wimbledon before the final.
As he has done for the last eight years, the Swiss maestro rolled up at the players’ entrance on the second Thursday of the championships in his courtesy car.
Except this time there will be no gentle practice session on the eve of the men’s semi-final.
Instead, after being the only member of the world’s top four to miss out on the semi-final party, Federer emerged from the car dressed casually in a t-shirt and jeans, and hurriedly disappeared into the building, perhaps looking to clear out his locker four days earlier than he would have wanted or expected.
While many pundits were ready to write the 16-times grand slam champion’s tennis obituary and hail the start of the post Federer era, John McEnroe reminded everyone one that the Swiss had the same blood coursing through his veins as everyone else.
“The guy’s a human being,” said the three-times former champion who has been commentating at the championships.
“He’s going to have to face the fact that he’s not going to win these things, and he may never win another thing. So everyone’s waiting, predicting when that’s going to happen.
“Let’s not forget a couple years ago when he lost to Nadal in the finals, (people were saying) It was over, he was done, he’s a bum.’
“Then he beats Pete’s (Sampras) record, he wins the French (in 2009), and then he follows up and wins Australia (in 2010) and he plays some amazing tennis.
“So to write anyone off that’s accomplished that is stupid.
Of course at the same time at some point, it’s inevitable that it’s going to happen.”
At 28, the six-times Wimbledon champion still has time to win the most famous gold cup in tennis again, especially since his body had not taken a pounding with his effortless style of play.
The chance to draw level and eventually surpass Sampras and William Renshaw’s record of seven men’s titles will no doubt make him come back to the All England Club in 2011, but the one thing he will have to accept is he will probably never dominate on the hallowed turf again.
In 2008 he lost to Nadal over five unforgettable sets in a match widely considered as the greatest of all time.
In 2010, he came within three points of losing to a claycourt journeyman ranked 60th, dropped a set against a 152nd player who goes by the nickname of Bozo before finally being battered into submission by the sledgehammer forehand of Czech 12th seed Tomas Berdych.
So monumental was the result, Berdych described the watershed moment in tennis as: “Not many other moments can be compared to this one, standing on Centre Court here in Wimbledon beating the six-times champion.”
If that was bad enough, Federer will also wake up on Monday and find himself ranked outside the top two for the first time since 2003, below Nadal and Serbia’s Novak Djokovic.
The year that had started so promisingly for Federer in January, when he won the Australian Open, is now starting to unravel at an alarming pace.
His incredible run of 23 successive grand slam semis was snapped last month when he fell in the last eight to Robin Soderling at Roland Garros. He would have taken consolation from the fact that at least that was on clay -- his least favourite surface.
But to suffer the same fate on his beloved grass? It sent a man who has contested 22 grand slam finals, seven of them at south west London, into denial.
“Quarters is a decent result... obviously people think quarters is shocking but people would die to play in quarter-finals of grand slam,” he said.
Seconds later reality set in.
“It’s not something I’m used to doing. God, I can’t wait for Paris and Wimbledon to come around next year again, that’s for sure.”