Federer shows age in five-set loss


PARIS -- You've seen the play thousands of times:

Roger Federer takes the serve to the ad-court out wide, forcing the right-hander to hit a backhand, then moves forward and, as the opponent scrambles to get back to center, swipes a winning cross-court forehand that actually leaves the court inside the service line.

Facing a critical break point in the fifth set of his fourth-round match with Ernests Gulbis, Federer reached into the archive and ... missed the shot a few inches wide. Gulbis got the break to go up 2-0 and was never seriously threatened on the way to a 6-7 (5), 7-6 (3), 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 Sunday victory at Roland Garros.

These are the kinds of matches that Federer used to win in straight sets. This one required 3 hours, 42 minutes. These days, players like the 25-year-old Latvian can make the 17-time Grand Slam champion look merely ordinary.

"Clearly very disappointed not to come through with the win," Federer said. "After the chance in the second set, fighting back in the fourth, not to play a better fifth set. A lot of regrets here now. But I think Gulbis, you know, did a good job of hanging around and clearly coming back in that second set was crucial for him."

In a period from 2003 to 2010, Federer won 16 of 27 Grand Slam singles titles. And then, in the natural course of things, Federer battled a balky back and lost a half step while a handful of players surpassed him. He won Wimbledon one more time, in 2012, but this is what we are left with going forward for the father of four:

• a second-round loss a year ago at Wimbledon;

• a fourth-round loss at the US Open;

• a semifinal loss at this year's Australian Open;

• and now, this fourth-round loss at Roland Garros.

After nine straight years of reaching at least the French Open quarterfinals, Federer fell one round short.

The sad thing? It was his once-sublime forehand, and by association his nerve, that let him down. Federer stroked 42 winners and a jittery 59 unforced errors. Gulbis, more tidy, had 53 of each. His forehand was stellar. The No. 18 seed has won eight straight matches and will meet No. 6 seed Tomas Berdych in a Tuesday quarterfinal.

Gulbis, who has won two titles this year and entered the event with a career-high No. 17 ranking, is enjoying only his second appearance in the second week of a major. This could be a career-defining win; it was Gulbis' first win over a top-five player in a major.

Federer, who turns 33 in August, came into the match with a spotless 6-0 record in five-set matches at Roland Garros. Now he's 6-1.

Time -- and the law of averages -- is catching up with him. That's the world he now lives in.

Murray wins a cliffhanger

It was past 9:30 p.m. local time Saturday when they suspended the third-round match between Andy Murray and Philipp Kohlschreiber -- at 7-all in the fifth.

Good luck getting any sleep, guys.

"My sleep wasn't good," Kohlschreiber said. "I was sweating a lot. If you finish late, you try to recover. Drink a lot. So quite often to the toilet."

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