The clock on Centre Court showed 3.46pm and 2-1 in sets, 5-4 in games, and advantage to Tomas Berdych, who was preparing to serve in the shadow of the Royal Box end. At the other end Roger Federer was shuffling on the balls of his feet, at quarter-final match point down for the second time in four minutes. On the first occasion the great Swiss master of the grass court game, the defending Wimbledon champion, had saved himself with a volley at the net. Second time round there was no dodging the bullet from the racket of Tomas Berdych.
The 12th seed from the Czech Republic been shooting from the hip all afternoon, serving right-handed howitzers at 130mph plus. The question was: could he hold his nerve afinish off the job and the six-time champion of SW19? The answer was emphatic. Berdych’s bullet reached 138mph, his deadliest delivery of the day. Federer managed to get his racket to the ball and deflect it back across the net but the Czech was left with a gimmie of a forehand, which he duly buried. It was Roger and out.
There would be no final thriller for Federer this year, no place in the record books alongside the two seven-times winners of the men's singles, Willie Renshaw and Pete Sampras. The No 1 seed cut a forlorn figure as he collected his rackets and headed for the exit, briefly turning to acknowledge the crowd as the pain of the scoreline – 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 – sank in.
Federer had seemed ill at ease from the start of his 12th Wimbledon campaign – on the back of his losses to Lleyton Hewitt in Halle (only his second on grass in seven years) and to Robin Soderling at the quarter-final of the French Open at Roland Garros. After his fate was sealed with his first failure to reach the final since 2002 (when he was beaten in the first round by Mario Antic), the man from Basle claimed he had been hamstrung in every respect.
"I am struggling with a hamstring and a little bit of a back issue," Federer maintained. "That does not quite allow me to play the way I would like to. It's frustrating, to say the least. When you're hurting, it's a combination of many things. You just don't feel as comfortable. You can't concentrate on each and every point.
"Under the circumstances I think I played a decent match but I've been feeling bad for the past two, three matches. It's just not good and healthy to play under these kind of conditions. If there's anything good about this it's that I'm going to get some rest; that's for sure."
There will be no rest for the winner. Berdych's prize is a second Grand Slam semi-final date in four weeks, having got to the last four in Paris after disposing of Andy Murray in round four. The 24-year-old will meet the Serbian No 3 seed Novak Djokovic, who made routine work of dismissing Yen-Shun Lu of Chinese Taipei, Andy Roddick's fourth round conqueror, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.
It was not the first time that Berdych had got the better of Federer. He claimed the celebrated Swiss scalp during the Athens Olympics in 2004 and at the Miami Open in January this year. Managing the feat in the Court of the Wimbledon King, though, was an effort that registered on the upper reaches of tennis' Richter Scale.
That Federer was some way below regal par was clear from the opening few games as his groundstrokes and volleys found the net with regularity and as Berdych's rocket serve eluded him. Not that the Czech was blessed with just the one brand of ammunition. He fired off an impressive array of winners on Federer's serve, breaking him in the seventh game of the opening set, twice in the third set, and – crucially – again in the seventh game of the fourth set.
Berdych, the first Czech semi-finalist in the men's singles since Ivan Lendl in 1990, was more surprised by news of Federer's injuries than by his own victory. He was also bemused by the dethroned champion's less than gracious assertion that he had been "unlucky on the big points".
"You can take it both ways," Berdych said. "You can say that he was unlucky, or you can say that maybe the opponent was a little bit better and he just won the big points against him."