Reigning Wimbledon champion Roger Federer blew a two-set lead to Kevin Anderson in their Wednesday quarterfinal at the All England Club, ending his bid to win the fourth major in his last five starts and extend his record number of career major victories to 21. Where does the defeat rank on the list of worst defeats for the all-time great? FTW ranks the top (or bottom) five.
The greatest match of all time is Federer’s most painful loss. It’s Federer’s most famous loss. It might eventually become Federer’s most consequential loss. But his worst? Depends on how you look at it. How can losing the greatest match of all time – one that’s been the subject of books and movies, one that still captures the public’s imagination a decade later – be considered anything but a noble defeat? To call it a loss almost cheapens Nadal’s victory. It’s also why Rafa’s stunning 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 win in that year’s French Open final isn’t on this list. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap. Or, in Federer’s case, your cardigan.
Shipped out to Court No. 1 for the first time in years, Federer seemed unaffected leaving Centre Court, winning the first two sets against the big-serving Anderson en route to what was sure to be another Wimbledon drubbing. The win in the second set was his 34th straight at the All England Club, tying a record he’d set more than a decade earlier. And then, out of nowhere, the match flipped.
Federer failed to convert a match point in the third set and couldn’t capitalize on multiple break points or 0-30 leads on Anderson’s serve, clearly losing confidence as he was hitting balls off his frame and spraying forehands long. The South African took advantage, holding in his last 26 service games and putting constant score pressure on Federer’s serve. In the final set, Anderson won more big points than Federer lost, but the opportunities were there for the No. 1 seed and he kept letting them get away. It was only the third time in Federer’s career that he lost a Grand Slam match after winning the first two sets.
Federer, the five-time reigning champion, was cruising in the 2009 U.S. Open final (sense the theme), when he was thrown off his game by a combination of the raw, hard-hitting 19-year-old Del Potro and, of all things, computer technology. Luddite.
Up a set and serving for the second, Federer got angry at a call that was reversed by the Hawk-Eye system. The score flipped a Federer set point to a Del Potro break point, which the Argentine quickly converted. It set Federer off – he remained heated by the overturn (“That one cost me the match, eventually,” Federer said later) and he began jawing at the chair umpire to complain about a number of things, including how long Del Potro was taking to challenge.
In the fourth set, he was two points from victory but couldn’t capitalize and dropped the fifth with barely a fight. It capped a wild year for Federer, one that began with him in tears after a five-set loss to Nadal, but included his first French Open win (and the career Slam that came with it), a return to the winner’s circle at Wimbledon and the birth of his twin girls.
After his historic run of 14 major victories in 27 attempts, Roger Federer was in a rut. At 33 years old, he’d taken just one of the previous 18 Slams and the chorus of questions about whether he’d ever win another seemed to be reaching its crescendo. And then came opportunity. Rafael Nadal, the reigning champion, was forced out of the 2014 U.S. Open with an injury, clearing Federer’s side of the draw for what appeared to be a cakewalk to an inevitable final against Novak Djokovic.
But something funny happened along the way. While Federer was waiting to play his semifinal against No. 14 seed Marin Cilic, Djokovic was getting upset by Kei Nishikori, seemingly handing Federer the trophy on a silver platter. They might as well have engraved his name right then. Who was going to stop him?
The answer came swiftly, like a first-round knockout punch. Cilic demolished Federer in three sets that were so lopsided they must have seemed like a fever dream to the Swiss champ. The implications weren’t good: Either Federer had choked when presented with the most favorable Grand Slam situation he might ever see again or he was as old and decrepit as Cilic had made him look. The Cilic-Nishikori match was the first Grand Slam final in nearly 10 years not to feature Federer, Nadal or Djokovic.