And then there was one. Of the Big Four who came to Wimbledon as the bookies’ picks for success, only Roger Federer is still standing.
True, he is the most successful of the lot but he is also the oldest and the only one of the group who skipped the whole of the clay court season to be ready for another huge push for his eighth title in SW19.
With Rafael Nadal long gone, his suspect knees never at their happiest on grass, and yesterday Andy Murray limping out against Sam Querrey and Novak Djokovic crocked with a gammy elbow, only the soon-to-be 36-year-old Federer was ready for the fight. And, fit as a flea, he cruised by Milos Raonic and into the semi-finals 6-4, 6-2, 7-6.
Djokovic, by contrast, threw in the towel trailing Tomas Berdych 7-6, 2-0. His right elbow, the one that has been troubling him for more than a year, had been getting progressively worse since the start of the tournament and yesterday it reached crisis point. His first serve speed had dropped well below 100mph and his forehand would barely knock the skin off a rice pudding. Like all the top players, he is used to playing through pain but yesterday was just too much.
“I tried,” he said. “I tried what I could do from yesterday to get it in the condition where I’m able to play. I was able maybe for 30 minutes to play with some pain that was bearable, let’s call it that way. All the treatments and medications couldn’t really help. The serve and forehand were the shots where I could feel it the most. Just after that there was really no sense.”
The pain comes and goes – and when it goes, Djokovic keeps on playing. But yesterday was the worst it has ever been and now he wants to get to the bottom of what is causing the problem.
“I’m just going to talk with specialists, as I have done in the last year or so, try to figure out what’s the best way to treat it and to solve it, to find a long-term solution,” he said. “The specialists that I’ve talked with, they haven’t been really too clear, mentioning also surgery, mentioning different options. Nobody was very clear in what needs to be done. The more I play, the worse it gets. I guess a break [from tennis] is something that I will have to consider right now.”
Every time Federer takes a break, he comes back better than before. And given that he was pretty good to start with, that made him the nailed on favourite before the tournament started.
As he has swanned through the rounds without dropping a set, he has looked sharp, elegant and aggressive. Federer on Centre Court is Federer in his comfort zone: he knows every blade of grass – what is left of it – on the court and he is surrounded by his adoring fans. What is not to love?
When he lost to Raonic in the semi-finals last year, he was still troubled by the after effects of knee surgery. Opting to take the rest of the year off to let his body rest and recover, he thundered back in January and beat Nadal to win the Australian Open.
After that, and once his work was done on the hard courts – he also won the Indian Wells and Miami titles – he left the clay to Nadal. Wimbledon was his goal.
Yesterday he did not so much beat Raonic as dismantle him, piece by piece. He hit 46 clean winners and made only nine unforced errors and he broke the mighty Raonic serve three times.
The Canadian thumped one serve down at 140mph while his average first serve speed was 127mph, yet Federer dealt with the power and made it look easy.
Now only Berdych stands between the seven-time champion and his 11th Wimbledon final. The brittle Czech has not beaten Federer since the US Open in 2012 and trails their rivalry with six wins to Federer’s 18. There may only be one of the Big Four left – but he is the biggest of them all.