Jun 30 2011 By Colin Mackenzie
THE astonishing departure of six time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer, beaten by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga having been two sets in the lead, has opened up Andy Murray's title chances at this year's championships.
True he still has to achieve the near impossible by beating Rafael Nadal in tomorrow's semi final repeat of last year. But is this the same Nadal who defeated him in straight sets in 2010?
And if he does beat a below par Nadal, who was out of sorts in beating Mardy Fish in four sets yesterday, he still probably has to face his Australian Open nemesis Novac Djokovic.
It is the first time Federer has ever lost a Grand Slam match having been two sets up in 178 previous attempts. He appeared to be sailing confidently into the semi finals when Tsonga, 26, a grass court specialist, started serving like a man possessed.
His first serve percentages rose above 80 per cent as Federer found it increasingly difficult to stay in the rallies. The once confident Swiss meister was eventually outplayed and out muscled by the popular Frenchman who beat Nadal in straight sets en route to the Australian Open Final in 2008.
Afterwards Federer refused to write off his chances of winning another Grand Slam even though he will be 30 by the start of the US Open in August.
He said; "It wasn't a shocker, a second round loss in straight sets or some stupid match. It was a great match, I think, from both sides. I really did play well and I also thought Jo played an amazing match, as good as I've seen him play for a long time.
"I think I definitely can win another Grand Slam title. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't the case. I'm happy, I'm healthy and I feel much better than a year ago."
For Tsonga, sometimes brittle in the past, this win represents something of a breakthrough. He has suffered injury over the years but is physically fit for the first time in months.
He said; "I think I've improved a lot mentally. I'm stronger because I've changed a lot of things in my tennis and now I try to stay focused all the time and just breathe and stay quiet. I think I'm the kind of player who likes, you know, these big moments."
Murray's straight sets win over Feliciano Lopez by 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 was comparatively tame and straightforward. The big serving 29-year-old Spaniard was never able to dominate in that department - in fact Murray out aced him 13 to seven.
The Scot, 24, seemed supremely confident that he could handle his opponent's awkward leftie serve and the only real danger to the result was when Murray pulled up short, having apparently damaged his right hip.
He said; "It's a bit sore at the top of my hip but I was moving OK. I'll have a better idea in the morning. I thought I played really well and my serve stood up well."
Over on Court One Nadal, who has had his own injury worries with a sore left foot, seemed quite out of sorts as he made several unforced errors in his four set win over American Mardy Fish.
Fish seemed utterly overawed in the first two sets before finally finding his rhythm and winning the third set 7-5. Thereafter he found his range and put Nadal under severe pressure before the Spaniard finally upped his game to prevail 6-3, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4. And the foot?
Nadal said; "My foot is not fine but we are in the quarter finals. It's an emergency so I had to play. It's my last tournament for a month and a half. I have pain and I cannot run in perfect condition without putting the foot to sleep."
Djokovic has played better than when despatching 18-year-old Australian prodigy Bernard Tomic 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, also on Court One. But the fact remains he has lost only one match in the whole of this year (to Federer in the semi finals of the French Open).
He said; "I hope I can perform better against Tsonga. In some periods today I wasn't moving well, wasn't feeling great. I was too passive, making a lot of unforced errors. The serve wasn't going well."