WIMBLEDON — Top-seeded Roger Federer hadn’t dropped a set yet at Wimbledon. At 36 and with eight titles here, he was confident — his movement on court was as quick and deft as it had been in his 20s.
Federer even had a match point in the third set against No. 8 Kevin Anderson on Court No. 1. That he would win it seemed a foregone conclusion, as predictable as ordering strawberries and cream on the grounds.
Yet that was the moment when things started going wrong for Federer on Wednesday. His shots sailed past the baseline and Anderson’s service game was no longer providing opportunities to break. Two hours after that match point expired, Federer and Anderson were locked deep in the fifth in a Grand Slam where the tiebreak rule doesn’t apply in that ultimate set.
“As the match went on, I couldn’t surprise him anymore,” Federer said. “That’s a bad feeling to have. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before. I’ve been in many, many matches like this.”
Anderson reached the semifinal with a 2-6, 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-4, 13-11 win over reigning champion Federer, who was finally broken in the fifth at 11-11. It was a surprising letdown from a player who has excelled on these courts.
“To be honest, I didn’t feel mental fatigue,” Federer said. “Now I feel horribly fatigued and just awful. It’s just terrible. But that’s how it goes, you know. Credit to him.”
The 6-8 Anderson, a South African, was a finalist at the 2017 U.S. Open (losing to Rafael Nadal) and won the first New York Open indoor tournament at Nassau Coliseum in February. Federer had won all four of their previous meetings.
“I didn’t see it coming,” Federer said. “From that standpoint, I felt great in practice, good in the warmup. I’m feeling the ball well. Even now losing, I still felt like the feeling is there. It just happened to be that today wasn’t the day.”
Even without Federer, the Wimbledon semifinals have some familiar faces with No. 12 Novak Djokovic, No. 2 Nadal and No. 9 John Isner. Isner, an American, and Anderson will meet in one match on Friday, and Nadal and Djokovic in the other.
Djokovic defeated No. 24 Kei Nishikori, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, in the first quarterfinal on Centre Court. As with his last match, Djokovic found a point of annoyance. This time it was being called for a violation when he smashed his racket in the second set.
“[The chair umpire] said that he thinks it damaged the court,” Djokovic said. “Nishikori did the same in the fourth set and he didn’t get a warning. I think that’s not fair. He claims that he didn’t see what Nishikori has done, but apparently he always sees what I do. Something that I don’t think is fair.”
In an earlier match, Djokovic was upset by the pro-England crowd supporting Kyle Edmunds on Centre Court. It begs the question, is Djokovic using these annoyances as fuel, and is it working?
“He was pumping himself up,” Nishikori said. “He was playing, you know, good tennis again. I’m sure he’s in good shape again. I think confidence is back for him.”
Nadal and No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro played an epic five-setter on Centre Court, with Nadal finally pulling out a 7-5, 6-7 (7), 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win. Del Potro fell to the ground after Nadal won, and the Spaniard went over, picked him up and the two genuinely hugged.
Isner, 33, reached the first Grand Slam semifinal of his career with a win over No. 13 Milos Raonic, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (7), 6-4, 6-3.
“This is amazing,” Isner said. “It’s by far the best Grand Slam I’ve ever played in my career.”