Playing Roger Federer on Wimbledon's Centre Court, according to his conqueror Sergiy Stakhovsky, is like taking on two people at once. As dusk fell on an extraordinary day, the Kiev dynamo overcame both of them, proving himself the equal of the master in ability and temperament as he won 6-7, 7-6, 7-5, 7-6.
In a match that was almost old school, his superb serve and volleying enabled him initially to hang on, preventing the match running away from him in the early stages, and even after losing a first tie-break, to win the second. Not for 12 of Stakhovsky's service games could Federer create so much as a break point and since the seven-times champion, while offering the occasional chance, was also assured on service, there was no break for 34 games until the Ukrainian went 6-5 up in the third set, holding on to take a 2-1 lead.
With an early break in the fourth set he was on his way to causing a sensation. Federer broke back but wasted a set point and in the tie-break could save only one of Stakhovsky's two match points. When the champion sent a backhand wide he was beaten, and down to fifth place in the rankings – still more than 100 places ahead of his opponent.
"I'm incredibly happy," the victor said, as well he might have been. "When you play Roger Federer at Wimbledon it's like playing two against one. I was just hoping he wouldn't get too far away from me. But I couldn't play any better today.
"I was saying that if I'm going to hold on to him in the beginning of the match, then I have a chance of maybe doing something. But if he would run away from me in the beginning, then you cannot catch the Federer train. Winning was great, but I didn't win the tournament. I just won the second round. There's another five rounds. But right now I can definitely tell my grandkids, I kicked the butt of Roger Federer."
The champion was as dignified as ever in rare defeat: his worst at any event since losing to world No 154 Mario Ancic in the first round here 11 years ago; his first by a player ranked outside the top 100 since a loss to Richard Gasquet in 2005; and the earliest defeat for a defending champion at Wimbledon since Lleyton Hewitt lost to Ivo Karlovic in the first round of 2003.
"It's always disappointing to lose any match, particularly here where I've had some great moments," he said. "It was a tough loss. What do you do after something like this? You don't panic at this point, that's clear, just go back to work and come back stronger really.
"It's hard to do sometimes but usually I do turnarounds pretty good. I'm looking forward to what's to come, I hope I can play a good summer and a good end to the season."
His verdict on his opponent was: "He was uncomfortable to play against. I think he served and volleyed really well. It was difficult to get into that much rhythm clearly against a player like that."
Stakhovsky feels the reason for dropping out of the top 100 after being No 46 three years ago was that he had been spending so much time as a representative of the ATP players' council. Like Dustin Brown at the start of the day, the ranking is either ludicrously low or demonstrates remarkable depth in the men's game.
He found much joy by serving to the Federer backhand and rushing in on the returns, but also had a notable success on his second serve, winning up to 70 per cent of points with it.
Federer in contrast had to save break points in successive games in the first set before finally finding a chink in the Ukrainian armour during the tie-break. He took that 7-5 with an ace, but after a similar second set, it was a perfect serve and volley that brought Stakhovsky level.
In the third set, he made his break for 6-5 and served out with a classic and typical volley at the net. In the fourth, the break came early. Federer suddenly looked edgy and a tentative volley allowed the Ukrainian to lead 2-1, only to lose his serve at last – after 20 holds – for 3-3.
Yet the champion, who had been made to change his orange-soled shoes because of the All England Club's policy on white clothing, waited in vain for his opponent to tire or tighten up.
Federer's concern and possibly frustration was reflected in a 96mph shot smashed at the body of Stakhovsky, who wisely ducked out of the way. "This is not the juniors here," Federer said later.
That was at 4-4. At 6-5 Federer had a point for the set, and had he taken it, would have been favourite to go and claim his expected place in the third round. Stakhovsky charged boldly to the net – something he did 96 times in the match – and won the point with an immaculate volley.
So to the decisive tie-break. Federer produced one vintage backhand down the line after suffering a mini-break, but a wild return and failed challenge left him 5-2 and then 6-4 down. He saved a match point with another fine backhand but then put one wide to give Stakhovsky the glory and the headlines.Reuse content