LONDON // No sooner had the dust settled on the eclipse of Venus, the Fed Express was also derailed in a pursuit of more Wimbledon glory. Roger Federer, six times the men's champion, followed Venus Williams out of the exit door on another day of quarter-final drama. And at times yesterday there looked like more carnage coming the way of the top names in the men's game. Rafael Nadal, the world No 1 and unbeaten on the lawns of the All England Club since 2007, lost the first five games of his match against Robin Soderling before winning it in four sets, while Andy Murray, the great hope of the home supporters, struggled at first against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
The British No 1 also had to recover from a shaky start but, in the end, did so quite impressively to claim a semi-final meeting with Nadal, the Spaniard who failed to defend his title last year because of injury. Tomorrow's other semi-final was expected to feature Novak Djokovic and Federer. Djokovic, the world No 3, kept his side of the bargain by thrashing the unseeded Yen-hsun Lu but Federer was a shadow of his former self and made no attempt to disguise his frustrations.
The Swiss, who has captured 16 grand slams, came across as the sorest of losers after a fierce-hitting Tomas Berdych had put him to the sword 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4. Complaining of a sore back and a "leg issue", Federer said ungraciously of Berdych, whom he had defeated eight times in 10 previous meetings, "If I'm healthy I can handle these guys. I have played these guys 10 times. They are not going to reinvent themselves in a year."
Federer's mood did not improve throughout an unpleasant press conference in which he refused to take an educated guess on who would succeed him as champion on Sunday and then declared that he would take no interest in the final because he was going to take an immediate two-week holiday. He warned, however, that his hunger for even more major honours would not diminish after this depressing failure. "I can't wait for Paris and Wimbledon to come round again next year," he said.
More immediately he will strive to regain peak fitness in time for the North American hard court season which will reach a crescendo at the US Open, an event in which he was deposed as champion last year by Juan Martin Del Potro. Berdych, the 12th seed from the Czech Republic, celebrated another of his finest hours, following his first semi-final appearance at Roland Garros last month with his best Wimbledon performance.
"I don't know if he is just looking for excuses but this type of thing has happened to all of us," said Berdych, who will take on Djokovic tomorrow. The stand-out semi-final in Federer's absence, though, is the clash between Nadal and Murray, who holds the most realistic of chances of ending the home nation's long wait for a men's champion. "That will be a great match against Nadal," said Murray after coming strongly through his early sticky patch against Tsonga to romp to a 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 6-2 victory.
Tsonga became the only player in this tournament to take a set from the Scottish player when edging the opening tie-break but when Murray claimed the ensuing breaker to draw level it seemed to knock the heart out of his big-hitting French rival. Nadal confessed to having a similar scare early on against Soderling, the Swede who sensationally ended his domination of the French Open last year. Again a tie-break proved pivotal, Nadal taking the one that was required to decide a tight third set and then sweeping to a 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4, 6-1 passage.