The legion of Roger Federer fans who had Centre Court tickets for Wednesday were given a shock on Tuesday night when it was revealed his quarter-final match with Kevin Anderson was to be played on Court One.
It was the first time since the 2015 quarter-finals that Federer was not playing on Wimbledon’s main stage, and it left many of his supporters facing a dilemma.
A simple search of ‘Centre Court swap’ on Twitter will tell you of the number of people who sought to swap their Centre experience in favour of Court One, just so they could watch the 36-year-old in action.
Some succeeded in their endeavour, it appears, while those who remained were treated to Kei Nishikori’s last-eight match with Novak Djokovic, who reportedly requested a Centre Court billing after only featuring on the hallowed grass once in the opening four rounds.
So were Wimbledon’s organisers justified in their decision to ‘relegate’ Federer?
First and foremost, it was the correct call. Rafael Nadal’s clash with Juan Martin del Potro was a nailed-on Centre Court showdown, while John Isner’s match with Milos Raonic had all the makings of Court One.
And in choosing Djokovic’s match over Federer, they at least momentarily silenced the cries that there is a clear bias towards the eight-time champion. Not that anyone told BBC’s coverage, for they opted to roll out Federer on BBC Two with Djokovic subjected to the red button – initially at least.
The first sets went serenely enough for Djokovic and Federer. Both were favourites against Nishikori and Anderson respectively, and they took 1-0 leads accordingly.
And while Federer edged a second-set tie-break to move seemingly towards another straight-sets victory, a twist in the tale on Centre saw Nishikori rally to take the second set against Djokovic. Decision justified, it seemed, with the tighter, more enthralling encounter coming on the main show court.
But then, yet another twist, this time out on Court One. Federer had matched his all-time Wimbledon record when taking a 34th consecutive set to lead 2-0, but he squandered a match point in the 10th game of the third set before losing his serve in the following game, and going on to concede the set in the 12th.
Back on Centre, Djokovic brought an enthralling encounter to an end in the fourth set. “That fire in his belly is back,” noted John McEnroe, as the Serb celebrated reaching a first Grand Slam semi-final since 2016.
And as Djokovic made his way off court to rest and recover, Federer found himself a break down in the fourth out on One. Was he really about to be taken to a decider? With Anderson serving for the set at 5-4, Federer saved set point before bringing up a break-back point, but the South African dug deep to save that and force a fifth set.
Cue the drama of a winner-takes-all set, and one that no one expected some 40 minutes before when Federer brought up a first match point.
The argument could be that at this very point, Anderson proved this was indeed a worthy Centre Court match, but in truth, nobody was ever to know, and it soon became apparent that all this talk of courts was becoming irrelevant. A great match was unfolding on One, while Del Potro and Nadal were about to take to Centre.
And so a dramatic final set ensured between Anderson and Federer, a tug of war, with 0-30 opportunities for both not materialising into breaks in the opening seven games. And in the eighth, a break-point chance for Federer, but Anderson clung on.
We soon entered the nervy shootout-style sudden death, with Anderson the one under pressure when serving second at 5-4 down.
5-5, 6-5, 6-6, 7-6, 7-7 and so on until at 11-11, Anderson broke. The court then held it’s breath as he served for the match at 12-11, and the South African duly held his nerve in the most difficult of circumstances.
The eight-time champion was out. The dream of a Federer-Nadal final was over. But in victory, Anderson wrote his name into Court One folklore, and moved one step closer to a maiden Grand Slam triumph.