Rafael Nadal suffered another premature Wimbledon exit after Gilles Muller won a Court One classic 15-13 in the fifth set.
Nadal was on the wrong end of an incredible 6-3 6-4 3-6 4-6 15-13 scoreline.
An epic final set took two and a quarter hours – more than half an hour longer than it took Roger Federer to dispatch Grigor Dimitrov.
The Spaniard, winner here in 2008 and 2010, served to stay in the match nine times, but the 10th proved too much even for him.
At four hours and 48 minutes, the match lasted exactly the same time as his epic final against Federer nine years ago.
Muller, who has won more matches on grass than any other player so far this year, troubled Nadal with his thunderous serve and penetrating volleys throughout.
The French Open champion had not dropped any of his previous 28 sets in grand slams, but suddenly Muller took the first two off him. Nadal drew on all his experience to dig deep to draw level, only to find himself facing two match points at 5-4 down in the decider against an equally resolute opponent.
Two big first serves, and two aces, averted that particular crisis, but Muller was still serving the better of the two.
That was until the 18th game of a marathon final set when, having got to deuce, Nadal chiselled out four break points.
A Muller double fault on the fourth, correctly overruled by umpire Ali Nili, served to ramp up the tension yet further as the underdog held.
Nadal saved two match points in the next, and when he came out to serve for the 22nd game he complained to Nili about the reflection of part of the Court One stand, prompting the unusual sight of the umpire asking spectators to stand in front of it.
Still the players battled on until the 28th game of a gruelling, and absorbing, contest when Muller eked out a fifth match point, and Nadal put a forehand long.
Muller, who was the first player to beat a raw Nadal at Wimbledon back in 2005, had repeated the trick 12 years later. As well as completing a personal double, Muller added his name to those of Lukas Rosol, Steve Darcis, Nick Kyrgios and Dustin Brown in sending Nadal home early in recent years.
“I lost in the fourth round. That’s not the result that I was expecting,” said Nadal.
I lost in the fourth round. That’s not the result that I was expecting. It is tough to analyse that in a positive way right now.Rafael Nadal
“It’s true that I played some good matches, but at the same time it’s true that I didn’t want to lose that match.
“So is tough to analyse that in a positive way right now.
“I won matches. I played better than other years, true. At the same time I was ready for important things, so I lost an opportunity.”
Muller said: “I just tried to hang in there. Rafa stepped it up in the third and the fourth sets. Then I just told myself ‘just hang in there and you’re going to get your chances’. I got a few of them – I didn’t take the first ones. But I still kept believing and somehow in the end I made it. It’s definitely my biggest win, I would say.”
The match went on so long that Novak Djokovic’s clash with Adrian Mannarino of France had to be postponed until today.
The decision was made on safety grounds, Wimbledon announced.
Centre Court was free from 6.50pm when Federer finished his victory over Dimitrov, but the All England Club decided not to move the match.
In a statement, Wimbledon said: “The safety and security of all visitors to the Championships is of paramount importance. The preference was to play the Djokovic v Mannarino match as scheduled on No 1 Court.
“When that was no longer an option, it was determined the match could not be moved to Centre Court due to the number of spectators remaining in the grounds.
“As late as 8.30pm, 30,000 people still remained in the grounds, and therefore moving the match would have created a significant safety issue.
“Both players were explained the rationale of postponing the match until (today), which is now scheduled for a 12pm start on Centre Court.”
The contest between Djokovic and Mannarino was the only last-16 singles match not to be played yesterday.
Defending champion Andy Murray came through an awkward assignment against Frenchman Benoit Paire in straight sets, 7-6 (7/1) 6-4 6-4.
He will face America’s Sam Querrey, who won the battle of the big servers 5-7 7-6 (7/5) 6-3 6-7 (11/13) 6-3 against South Africa’s Kevin Anderson.
Federer had no problems in seeing off Bulgarian 13th seed Dimitrov 6-4 6-2 6-4 and will meet Milos Raonic, the man who beat him in last year’s semi-final.
Raonic, the sixth seed from Canada, also went the distance in getting past Alexander Zverev of Germany 4-6 7-5 4-6 7-5 6-1.
Muller will face Croatia’s Marin Cilic, a 6-2 6-2 6-2 winner against Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, while Czech Tomas Berdych awaits Djokovic or Mannarino after beating Dominic Thiem of Austria.