Reporting from Wimbledon, England — First it was a tap, a Jo-Wilfried Tsonga forehand deep in the corner early in the third set that caused Roger Federer to furrow his brow.
It was as if a younger brother poked his finger in the chest of an older sibling and realized for the first time that he could knock him down, the 26-year-old Tsonga slowly gaining confidence against Federer on Wednesday at Wimbledon.
That forehand preceded a 130-mph ace, which turned into a service break that became two and then three until Federer was left behind, pushed around and finally out of Wimbledon for the second consecutive year, an upset loser in a quarterfinal.
For the first time in 179 major tournament matches, Federer squandered a two-set lead and the third-seeded, six-time Wimbledon champion was sent home by the 12th-seeded Tsonga, 3-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.
Tsonga celebrated his unexpected victory with triumphant twirls and pirouettes around Centre Court. The Frenchman, who made it to the final of the 2008 Australian Open, said this win was his best ever.
“For me, it’s more special because I beat Roger Federer in the quarterfinal on this big court,” Tsonga said. “For me, it’s just amazing. For me, it will be, for sure, one of the best memories of my career.”
Tsonga advanced into a semifinal on Friday against second-seeded Novak Djokovic, who survived a serious scare from 18-year-old qualifier Bernard Tomic. Djokovic played from behind in the third set before recovering to win, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.
Top-seeded Rafael Nadal, who needed an injury timeout in his fourth-round win and said he needed anesthetic to numb pain on his left foot, seemed to move well while eliminating the last American in the singles draw, 10th-seeded Mardy Fish, 6-3, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.
Afterward, Nadal said, “My foot is not fine but we are in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, is an emergency, so I had to play.”
In Friday’s other semifinal, Nadal will play fourth-seeded Andy Murray, Great Britain’s great hope. Murray thrilled the jampacked Centre Court crowd by beating unseeded Feliciano Lopez, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. There hasn’t been a British winner at Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936.
But for the moment, no performance was as dazzling as that of Tsonga against Federer.
“I think my game was plenty good enough this year to win the tournament,” Federer said, “but unfortunately there’s only one who can win it, and the rest go home empty handed.”
Federer was aiming to tie Pete Sampras among the men with the most Wimbledon singles titles at seven, and the 29-year-old from Switzerland seemed zeroed in for the first two sets.
The first chink in Federer’s game showed up in the third game of the third set, when Tsonga earned his first service break with a percussive backhand winner. Tsonga survived three deuces in the final game of the third set, held his serve and took the set. It was with a massive forehand winner that Tsonga earned the only service break in the fourth set.
The Frenchman didn’t take that long in the final set. He broke Federer’s serve immediately, in the first game, and he never had to defend one break point himself.
“I served unbelievable,” Tsonga said. “I feel really confident on this shot now. I hope it will continue.”
Federer did not seem devastated by the loss, nor would he concede his era of winning major tournaments is over.
“I was controlling the match,” he said. “Next thing you know, he just continued serving great. Before you know it, you’re down a break in the fifth.
“To talk bad about this match would be unfortunate. I really did play well and I also thought Jo played an amazing match. You can only respect that. I do. That’s why there is no reason to look too far ahead.”
Behind Federer are 16 major titles, most in history. But none since the 2010 Australian Open.
Ahead? His 30th birthday next month.