For the first time in 23 major tournaments, a span that lasted from Wimbledon 2004 until about an hour ago, Roger Federer will miss a grand slam semifinal. Cheers, Mr. Federer- it was a fantastic, historic run.
His streak of 23 straight semis more than doubles the next highest total, 10 each by Ivan Lendl and Rod Laver. Since it began, he's won 14 major titles, and lost to only 4 men: Marat Safin (2005 Australian semi), Novak Djokovic (2008 Australian semi, when he had undiagnosed mononucleosis), Juan Martin Del Potro (2009 US Open final) and Rafael Nadal (1 French Open semi, 3 French Open finals, a Wimbledon final, and an Australian final). His record was 135-9. He completed the career grand slam. He held the #1 position for almost the entire duration. He played in two of the greatest matches of all-time: a loss to Nadal in Wimbledon 2008, and a win over Roddick in Wimbledon 2009. He surpassed Pete Sampras for the most major titles in history.
Simply put, it was the greatest streak of individual achievement in athletic history. Against top tier competition, he was always among the top 4, a finalist 86% of the time, and the champion 60% of the time. Everyone who reads this blog knows that Rafael Nadal is my favorite athlete, so I think it's fair to call myself unbiased when I say that Federer is the best tennis player the world has ever seen. It's always funny to say something like that, but in this case it's not hyperbole. There's just no argument for the other side. In the past six years, we've watched an unthinkable stretch of sustained excellence.
And now it's over. I just watched the last set in a bar, and Soderling was fantastic. This match was no fluke; the Swede was the better man. His forehand was accurate and hard, and he earned service breaks under extreme pressure. Federer pushed him at all the crucial moments, but Soderling wouldn't crack. He was 0-12 against Roger before today, but all that changed. When he beat himself on the chest after match point, it didn't feel like the brash act of a lucky upstart. It felt earned. Now, he's the only man to beat both Federer and Nadal at the French Open. In fact, he's the only man to ever beat Nadal at Roland-Garros, and the only one besides Nadal to defeat Federer on the Paris clay since 2004.
We're probably in line for a Soderling-Nadal final, when Rafa will have his chance to avenge his only loss at the French. There's work left to be done for both, but Rafa is in top form, and Soderling looks fairly unbeatable. This Sunday, we might be in for an immovable object-unstoppable force situation. It will be awesome, but it'll also be a bit strange. At this point, it's expected that Roger will at least play for every Grand Slam title. But he'll be missing in action from here on out, resigned to the status of spectator. For the first few points of the championship, we'll certainly feel like something's amiss. After a profound six years, we finally have time to consider our amazement. It's the end of the Roger Era.