Hewitt applauded for breaking Federer

WIMBLEDON, England -- Finally, after a long, glorious run here at Wimbledon, Roger Federer lost -- a set, that is. Oh, and a service game, too.

That's what it has come to here at the All England Club. These days, the only standard to measure Federer against is Federer himself.

In Wednesday's meeting of the last two Wimbledon champions, Federer defeated Lleyton Hewitt 6-1, 6-7 (1), 6-0, 6-4. He will now play Sebastien Grosjean, a 7-5, 6-4, 6-2 winner over Florian Mayer, in a semifinal on Friday.

Federer-Hewitt was a match that seemed open to suggestion at certain junctures. Yet, when Federer really imposed himself, Hewitt could do nothing to stop him.

"I gave everything I had," Hewitt, 23, said in his post-match interview. "I felt like I played a good match. First set, I actually didn't feel like I hit the ball that badly. He just played incredible tennis.

"You've got to give him credit. He's the best player in the world at the moment."

Hewitt might have felt he was in the match, but Federer hit 50 winners, compared to only 27 for the Australian.

Federer's zany numbers continue to mount. The world No. 1 has now:

  • Won 22 consecutive matches on grass. Instructively, it's the longest winning streak on grass since Pete Sampras won 23 in a row.

  • Won 56 of his last 60 sets, although his streak of 36 straight sets -- going back to his third-round match here with Mardy Fish a year ago -- was broken by Hewitt.

  • Won 106 of his last 107 service games at Wimbledon, going back to last year's quarterfinals. His streak of 105 consecutive service wins ended at 3-4 in the fourth set.

    Heading into this match, Hewitt held an 8-4 career advantage over Federer, who had won their last two, including a four-set victory in this year's Australian Open. While Federer raced through his first four matches, surely Hewitt would provide some resistance in the quarterfinal.

    The first set was not encouraging.

    Federer won six of seven games. Even when Hewitt would dig in on his serve, say at love-30, Federer found a way to escape. A rain delay at 5-all in the second seemed to ruin Federer's rhythm. Still, serving at 5-6, he saved two set points -- with an ace down the middle and another unreturnable serve -- to force a tiebreaker. At this point, Hewitt uttered a very, very bad word.

    It had the desired effect, though, because Hewitt briefly looked like the world No. 1 player he once was. He won the first six points of the tiebreaker and, after dropping one point on a blazing Federer serve, threw back his own unreturnable serve. That prompted the trademark fist-pump and a defiant look in the direction of the friend's box, which included his fiancé, Kim Clijsters.

    This did not please the defending champion.

    Federer, 22, who rarely betrays any emotion on the court, played with a calculated fury. He won the third set 6-0 and Hewitt, a manic retrieving machine, called for the trainer to work on an injured quadriceps muscle.

    After going 0-for-8 on break points, Hewitt finally cracked through in the seventh game of the fourth set. An errant forehand by Federer brought a sustained ovation from the Centre Court crowd for Hewitt's feat. Federer, of course, broke right back, and then did it again to finish Hewitt.

    "I was a better player the whole fourth set, you know, and have very little to show for it," Hewitt said. "One minute you're up a break ... he just attacked and went for it a little bit and it paid off. Then you're in the locker room."

    After Hewitt double-faulted on match point, Federer worked up a pretty fair scowl and rendered his own, albeit PG-13, scream and fist-pump. This isn't the same Federer who lost to Hewitt in a 2000 Davis Cup match, 6-1 in the fourth set.

    "Now, because I have more experience, I'm more confident," Federer said. "I have a solid base now also on the conditioning side and mental side. So, for me, things have really changed, and I look at tennis very different now than I used to."

    When Federer plays, the game itself looks very different.

    Greg Garber is a senior writer at ESPN.com.