PARIS (Reuters) - A shot fired straight into Roger Federer’s armpit demonstrated just how badly Jo-Wilfried Tsonga wanted to reach the French Open semi-finals.
Federer was left wide-eyed and wincing when the ball bounced off his sweat-soaked shirt. But that momentary pain was nothing compared to the mental anguish the Swiss was feeling two games later as reality hit and he realized he would not be in the semi-finals of the French Open for only the second time in nine years.
Twelve months after blowing four match points at the same stage against Novak Djokovic, Tsonga produced a rip-roaring performance to beat the Swiss 7-5 6-3 6-3. As wild celebrations erupted among the packed house on Philippe Chatrier Court after Tsonga reached the last four here for the first time, Federer made a rapid exit from the arena where he had held aloft the Musketeers’ Cup in 2009.
“This is obviously a crushing loss,” Federer told reporters following a quick shirt change. “I struggled a little bit everywhere. Personally, I’m pretty sad about the match and the way I played.
“Jo-Willy played great today. He was better than me in all areas today. He returned better than I did, served better than I did. I struggled to find my rhythm.
“I’m just disappointed I couldn’t put in a better match today.”
Federer did not even have to look at the statistics to know just how badly his day had gone.
For the record he produced zero aces, three double faults - including one on break point - 34 unforced errors and won only 58 percent of points on his first serve.
The numbers were certainly not adding up for a man who has lit up the world stage for a decade sweeping up a record 17 grand slam trophies in the process.
The Swiss counts “Jo Willy” as one of his close friends on the tour and if he was looking for any favors on Tuesday, they were in short supply.
Tsonga goaded Federer with some aerial shots that the Swiss could only smash into the net. He tormented Federer by nullifying his serve-and-volly tactics with his whipped returns. And he finally delivered the killer shot-into-the-body blow which left Federer gasping.
“Missing smashes goes hand in hand with missing so many other things,” said Federer, who was broken six times during the contest.
“Should have never gotten broken (after being up) 4‑2 (in the first set). In hindsight now that’s obviously a huge game for me, and things didn’t go well from then on for me today.”
That was an accurate assessment as he went on to lose eight of the next nine games.
If that run was bad, things got really desperate in the seventh game of the third set. He contemplated smashing his racket at 15-15, smashed the ball into the net to go down 15-30 before Tsonga slammed the ball into him to break for a 4-3 lead.
While Federer was left to digest everything that went wrong for him on Tuesday, Tsonga rejoiced in setting up a last-four date with David Ferrer without dropping a set.
A backhand long from Federer on match point allowed Tsonga to bury memories of the “tragic near miss” against Djokovic and dream about the possibility of becoming the first Frenchman in the final since Henri Leconte in 1988.
“I played very well against a champion who has won everything,” said a beaming Tsonga.
“But even if you play the best player in the world...you have a chance because the guy in front of you has two legs, two arms, one head. That’s it. And today I proved it.
“I hope I can come back here in three days and do something big.”
Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Mark Meadows and John Mehaffey