Federer puts on brave face as gold hopes evaporate

Roger Federer was magnanimous in defeat yesterday after his hopes of a gold medal in the Olympic singles were extinguished by the American James Blake.

The Swiss, who will officially cease to be the world's best tennis player when the new rankings are released on Monday, slid to a 6-4, 7-6 defeat yesterday as his normally graceful game misfired again.

He had never lost to Blake in eight previous meetings, losing just one set, but he was outplayed on Centre Court as the American's forehand caught fire.

"It's a big disappointment obviously," the 27-year-old said after his later doubles quarter-final with Stanislas Wawrinka had been called off because of rain. "The Olympics was one of the goals of the season for me. So obviously the quarter-finals is not going to do it.

"I think James played well. I can only really say how well he played. I've played him on many occasions, but this was the best I've seen him. I'm happy for him. I hope he can go all the way now," the Swiss added.

Federer's latest setback, following the morale-sapping defeats against Spain's Rafael Nadal in the Roland Garros and Wimbledon finals, will lead to inevitable speculation that his five-year domination of men's tennis is over for good.

The 12-times Grand Slam champion, who blames a lack of proper practising after an early season illness for his run of poor form, said he could still salvage his season.

"I'm not happy with this tournament. I wish I could have done much more," Federer said. "But I've still got to look forward to the US Open. I still have that and then the Masters Cup in Shanghai to really do well now and try and save my season."

Blake, playing at his first Olympics, offered a generous take on the Federer debate. "It's like Tiger Woods. When they don't win every single week, it's called a bad year," Blake said. "Roger's been in two finals of a Slam and the semi-finals of a Slam. To consider that a bad year is just amazing."

Blake now plays the Athens singles bronze medallist Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, who beat France's Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-4, 6-4.

The second seed Nadal slipped through almost unnoticed amid the carnage, thrashing Austria's Jurgen Melzer 6-0, 6-4 to set up a semi-final with the Serbian third seed Novak Djokovic who beat France's Gaël Monfils 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.

Sisters Venus and Serena Williams also crashed out at the quarter-final stage in a night of shocks, as both played erratically against inspired opponents.

Serena, in her first Olympic singles tournament despite winning doubles gold in Sydney eight years ago, took the opening set against the Russian fifth seed Elena Dementieva but her challenge evaporated. Dementieva surged into a 5-0 lead in the final set and, although her nerves began, to fray she hung on despite a late challenge from Williams to win 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.

The home favourite Li Na then stole the show, outhitting the twice Olympic champion Venus Williams in a 7-5, 7-5 victory that sparked noisy celebrations on the floodlit Centre Court.