Roger Federer slumped to a 2-6 7-6(8) 6-4 loss to German veteran Tommy Haas at the Stuttgart Open on Wednesday in a disappointing comeback after the 18-time grand-slam champion missed the entire claycourt season.
Federer, who opted to miss it in order to prepare for an assault on an eighth Wimbledon crown, made a sensational start to the year by winning the Australian Open and subsequent titles at Indian Wells and Miami.
Yet despite a superb first set on grass, the 35-year-old lost his grip on the game in the oldest tour match, in terms of combined ages, since 1982.
He squandered a matchpoint in the second set as 39-year-old Haas, in his farewell season, proved more consistent, eventually setting up a quarter-final clash against countryman Mischa Zverev.
“I am speechless, of course,” Haas said in front of an ecstatic home crowd. “Playing Roger is always special, especially on grass. There are a lot of emotions when you are playing a close friend.”
“When you come into the second set, save a match point and then come back, that always makes you very happy about a win. I am shocked myself.”
Federer grabbed an early break as his attacking topspin backhand, which had served him so well earlier this year, was again on display.
Haas, a former world number two but currently at 302, was broken again as the Swiss served out the set on his first opportunity after 22 minutes and looked to be cruising to a comfortable victory.
But Federer lost his focus, allowing Haas to find a way back into what until that point had been a one-sided encounter.
The world number five saved four set points and wasted a match point as the German forced a third set, where he broke his opponent early on.
He held on to his advantage and sealed a memorable win with his second match point.