PARIS – Everything appeared to be under control for Roger Federer, just like in the old days at Grand Slam tournaments.
And then, suddenly, it wasn’t.
One point from a two-set lead Sunday in the French Open’s fourth round against 18th-seeded Ernests Gulbis of Latvia, Federer settled under a floating ball and prepared for what should have been a simple putaway. Except, suddenly, it wasn’t. Federer sent a meek overhead toward Gulbis, who took advantage of the gaffe, ripping a backhand winner.
That was part of a four-point run that let Gulbis break serve and get very much back into the match, which he wound up winning 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (7-3), 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 to end Federer’s streak of nine consecutive quarterfinals at Roland Garros.
“A lot of regrets,” Federer said. “I just couldn’t kind of figure it out.”
It also served as the latest reminder that Federer, now 32 and a father of four, is no longer the nearly infallible force who made it to the closing days of major after major.
“He’s Roger Federer,” Gulbis said, “but he also gets tight.”
Didn’t used to be the case. Federer, a 17-time Grand Slam champion, had not left Roland Garros so soon since 2004, when he was beaten in the third round by Gustavo Kuerten.
After that decade-old setback, though, Federer was a quarterfinalist at a record 36 consecutive major tournaments, a streak that ended with a second-round loss at Wimbledon last year. Federer also put together record Slam runs of 10 finals and 23 semifinals in a row.
Now he’s bowed out before the quarterfinals at three of the last four majors.
“I think it was the biggest, probably, win of my career,” said Gulbis, who most certainly could have dispensed with the word “probably.”
Addressing spectators who sang Federer’s first name between points as a sign of support, Gulbis said: “I’m sorry I had to win. I know all of you like Roger.”
The result fit with the topsy-turvy nature of this tournament: Both reigning Australian Open champions, No. 3 Stan Wawrinka and No. 2 Li Na, lost in the first round; No. 1 Serena Williams left in the second round.
Gulbis now plays No. 6 Tomas Berdych, who eliminated the last American man, No. 10 John Isner. In another quarterfinal, No. 2 Novak Djokovic will face No. 8 Milos Raonic. Wimbledon champion Andy Murray and No. 24 Fernando Verdasco finished off third-round victories in matches suspended Saturday night.
In the women’s quarterfinals, 2012 champion Maria Sharapova — who won the last nine games against Samantha Stosur on Sunday — will face 35th-ranked Garbine Muguruza, the 20-year-old Spaniard who stunned Williams last week, and No. 18 Eugenie Bouchard of Canada meets No. 14 Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain.
Gulbis last reached a major quarterfinal at the 2008 French Open. He’s spoken openly about focusing more on enjoying the nightlife than perfecting his craft, and drew attention last week for saying he wouldn’t encourage his younger sisters to pursue professional tennis because a woman “needs to think about family, needs to think about kids.”