A French Open quarter-final line-up without Roger Federer will seem like a boulangerie without baguettes, but the crumbs are rapidly becoming a staple diet for the former world No 1.
Federer’s 6-7, 7-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 defeat by Ernests Gulbis in the fourth round here on Sunday means he will not be in the last eight at Roland Garros for the first time since 2004. Until his defeat in the second round at Wimbledon last summer Federer had reached the quarter-finals at 36 Grand Slam tournaments in succession, but he has now failed to make the last eight at three of the last four.
There was almost an air of resigned acceptance about the 32-year-old Swiss as he was outhit by an opponent with a growing reputation as one of the game’s great entertainers. Gulbis’s talent was clear from the moment he demolished Tim Henman on his debut here seven years ago, but by his own admission he has not always put in the work needed to make the most of his ability. This was his first appearance in the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament since he reached the quarter-finals here six years ago.
Gulbis, who now meets the Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych, admitted he had been lucky to win the second set after Federer wasted two set points, one of them with a careless overhead. The world No 17, who now recognises the need for “hard work and dedication”, left the court in the fourth set for treatment to his back. Federer did not seem happy about having to wait. “He didn’t look hurt in any way,” Federer said afterwards. “But if you can use it, you might as well do it.”
Off the court Gulbis has always been good value and his press conference after the biggest win of his career was no exception. Having lived up to his reputation as a racket-smasher, after which he gave his mangled weapon to a boy in the crowd, the 25-year-old Latvian was asked whether he was setting a good example.
“I would be really happy if a tennis player gave me his broken racket,” Gulbis said. “He can refuse it if he doesn’t want to take a gift. He can sit down and say: ‘No, Ernests, I don’t want it.’ It’s all about choices in life. We all have choices. I can have a choice to break a racket and get a penalty. The kid can have the choice to take it or not. I think he made a great choice.
“I have to respect every court. I have to break at least one racket on every court of the world. Otherwise I would show too much disrespect to the centre court in Paris.”
Asked why he had generally kept his emotions in check, Gulbis said: “For sure, I’m going to behave better here than I would behave when it’s 10 people watching. It’s a mental thing, for sure. This crowd is tough. You have to keep your emotions more in line. It actually helped me. The less I talk the better I play.”
Novak Djokovic has replaced Federer as the most consistent performer in the men’s game and the Serbian world No 2 reached his 20th consecutive Grand Slam quarter-final by defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-1, 6-4, 6-1.
His 10th successive victory over the Frenchman earned a quarter-final meeting with the Canadian Milos Raonic, who beat Marcel Granollers of Spain 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.
Maria Sharapova, the favourite for the women’s title, passed her biggest test so far when she beat the Australian Sam Stosur 3-6, 6-4, 6-0.
The 27-year-old Russian, who completed her Grand Slam collection when she won the title here two years ago, has now beaten the 2010 French Open runner-up 14 times in their 16 meetings.
Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard beat Angelique Kerber 6-1, 6-2 and will face Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro in the quarter-finals.