WIMBLEDON, England — Lo and behold, Roger Federer actually lost a set at Wimbledon on Friday.
Not a match, mind you, just a set, which in and of itself counts as news. Dating to the start of the 2003 tournament, after all, Federer is 43-1 at the All England Club, dropping a total of 11 sets along the way.
Here’s the part that’s interesting — and perhaps intimidating to future foes: Federer called his 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-1 victory over 27th-ranked Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany in the third round his best performance of the week. And now, because Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam tournament that rests on the middle Sunday, Federer gets a full weekend for a little R-‘n’-R.
“It’s nice to have Saturday (today), Sunday off. It’s nice get off all the pressure for a day or so before you get sucked into it again,” Federer said. “I like to go to the city. I don’t do it that often.”
So he’ll head out to a nice dinner in London with his pregnant wife, then get back to work Monday, facing a familiar opponent: Robin Soderling, the man Federer beat in straight sets in the French Open final this month to complete a career Grand Slam and tie Pete Sampras’ record of 14 major titles.
Federer is trying to break that mark by collecting No. 15 overall with a sixth Wimbledon championship this fortnight, while the 13th-seeded Soderling will make his debut in the round of 16 at the All England Club after beating Nicolas Almagro 7-6 (7), 6-4, 6-4.
Also moving into the fourth round: Dudi Sela, who beat No. 15 Tommy Robredo 7-6 (8), 7-5, 2-6, 7-5 and is the first Israeli man to make it this far at Wimbledon in 20 years; No. 4 Novak Djokovic, who eliminated No. 28 Mardy Fish of the United States in straight sets; No. 22 Ivo Karlovic of Croatia, who hit 46 aces to knock off No. 9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga; and No. 7 Fernando Verdasco, who beat No. 32 Albert Montanes.
“In Israel, we have only hard courts, so I was expecting more to do better … on the hard courts than on grass or clay,” said the 46th-ranked Sela, who now meets 2008 Australian Open champion Djokovic. “But any Grand Slam fourth round, it’s good, I think.”
Two marathon matches were suspended because of darkness, with No. 11 Marin Cilic and No. 24 Tommy Haas at 6-all in the fifth set, and No. 29 Igor Andreev leading Andreas Seppi 6-1, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 5-5. Those are scheduled to resume today.
Friday’s action also included the first departure by one of the top 10 women: No. 7 Vera Zvonareva didn’t turn up for her match against No. 26 Virginie Razzano, citing an ankle injury. Serena Williams almost didn’t make it to her court on time, appearing fashionably late to play Roberta Vinci of Italy.
What happened? The 2002-03 Wimbledon champion was waiting for an escort.
“I thought someone was going to come get me,” Williams explained after beating Vinci 6-3, 6-4 to improve to 172-28 in Grand Slam play, an .860 winning percentage that’s the highest among active women. “I was waiting and waiting. Finally I was like, ‘OK, I think I’m just going to go out.’ I’m used to someone coming and saying, ‘OK, let’s go.”’
The second-seeded Williams next plays Daniela Hantuchova, a straight-set winner against her doubles partner, Ai Sugiyama. Elsewhere, the woman who eliminated 2004 champion Maria Sharapova in the second round, Gisela Dulko, lost to No. 10 Nadia Petrova 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, while No. 12 Marion Bartoli, the 2007 runner-up at the All England Club, was beaten by Francesca Schiavone 7-6 (5), 6-0.
Razzano now meets Schiavone; Petrova meets No. 8 Victoria Azarenka, who defeated No. 28 Sorana Cirstea; and No. 4 Elena Dementieva faces unseeded Elena Vesnina, who beat No. 14 Dominika Cibulkova 7-5, 4-6, 6-4. Cibulkova took a step back after her career-best showing at the French Open, where she beat Sharapova en route to her first major semifinal.
Soderling’s run at Roland Garros included, of course, a stunning victory over four-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal in the fourth round.
So, Robin, if you can beat Nadal on clay, can you beat Federer on grass?
“Maybe it’s the same challenge,” Soderling said. “We’ll see.”
The Swede knows Federer’s game quite well — perhaps too well for Soderling’s own good.
“It’s tough to play against Roger. I’ve played him 10 times, and after the match I never felt like I played well. But, I mean, it’s not because of me — I think it’s because of him. He makes you play,” said Soderling, 0-10 against Federer. “It’s tough to play well against him, put it that way.”
Kohlschreiber saw that for long stretches Friday. Federer earned an astounding 22 break points, converting seven. He hit 15 aces. He won the point on 33 of 47 trips to the net.
“Everything is looking so easy and smooth,” Kohlschreiber said.
Indeed, Kohlschreiber called it a treat to get to play Federer and watch him work his magic with a racket from the other side of the net.
And then Kohlschreiber added: “Unfortunate that most of the time you’re going to lose.”
Federer appeared well on his way to a matter-of-fact victory, leading by two sets and by 4-2 in the third, when he momentarily strayed. Kohlschreiber took three consecutive games — including a service break thanks to a return winner that clipped the net and trickled over — to lead 5-4. They went to a tiebreaker, where Federer helped with two forehand errors, including one yanked wide to give Kohlschreiber a 6-4 edge. Two points later, Kohlschreiber ripped a cross-court backhand winner to take the set.
Lest anyone think Federer might be bothered by that, he came out in the fourth set and went up 3-0 in about 12 minutes.
“I was happy how I reacted,” Federer said. “Thought I didn’t panic.”