|Federer shone after a slow start to his Wimbledon defence [GALLO/GETTY]
Defending champion Roger Federer joined the party on Friday but American John Isner's Herculean efforts finally caught up with him as his surreal Wimbledon adventure came to an abrupt and weary end.
Isner's freakish 11-hour first-round victory against gallant Nicolas Mahut re-wrote the tennis record books and overshadowed pretty much everything else on offer over the first four days, including a first visit by Queen Elizabeth since 1977.
As the eye-popping statistics churned out of the gargantuan contest on Court 18 during Wednesday and Thursday, six-times champion Federer's obvious unease in two scratchy victories against lowly-ranked players was largely overlooked.
The 28-year-old Swiss dined with the Queen on Thursday and he returned to the All England Club looking like the player who has reigned at Wimbledon for most of the last decade.
Against Colombia's Alejandro Falla, who was three points shy of a sensational first-round knockout on Monday, Federer looked awkward and error-prone and he was only slightly better against Serbia's Ilija Bozoljac in round two.
Against experienced Frenchman Arnaud Clement on Centre Court Federer's game clicked back into gear as he moved into the last 16 with a classy 6-2 6-4 6-2 victory.
"This felt much better," the top seed, who faces Jurgen Melzer on Monday, told reporters. "Right off the bat I got the early break. Same thing in the second set. From then on, it was a race to the finish line."
The top half of the draw is now taking shape nicely with third seed Novak Djokovic, fifth seed Andy Roddick and French Open semi-finalist Tomas Berdych all into the fourth round.
Lleyton Hewitt, who beat Federer in the Halle final, is also in the mix after grinding down Frenchman Gael Monfils to set up an enticing clash with Djokovic, who thrashed Spanish claycourter Albert Montanes.
Isner's astonishing 70-68 victory over Mahut was the longest tennis match that is ever likely to be played and asking him to return to court 19 hours later looked a little cruel.
From the moment he walked gingerly out on Court Five to face Dutchman Thiemo de Bakker, whose own 16-14 deciding set win in the first round looked like a piffling inconvenience, Isner looked spent and he lasted just 74 minutes.
His 6-0 6-3 6-2 was the shortest men's singles of the tournament so far and the most telling statistic was the complete lack of aces against his name compared to the 112 that whistled past Mahut's racket. Talk about extremes.
Despite yells of "C'mon John" from those who flocked to watch the man of the moment in action, the 25-year-old's body would not respond, even if the spirit was still willing.
"I was low on fuel out there and didn't really have a chance," said Isner who lost the first set in 16 minutes having spent the morning stretched out on a treatment table after waking up with a stiff neck, heavy legs and blistered feet.
"It wasn't like I was dying out there, I was just tired. Sometimes the adrenaline can take over but that wasn't the case today. I've never been this exhausted before but it still stinks to lose in the second round."
Fellow American Roddick later went into rather too much detail about his friend's physical state.
"His toes were just torched. They looked like deli meat. They're disgusting. I don't know if it was from playing that long or doing whatever."
Isner and Mahut had been the unlikely headliners so far but the American's painful-to-watch disintegration shifted the focus back to the likely winners of the silverware.
In women's third-round play Justine Henin and fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters set up a fourth-round collision of former world No.1s as they waltzed through against tricky Russians.
Clijsters, back at the tournament for the first time since 2006, crushed Maria Kirilenko 6-3 6-3 while Henin, whose last appearance was in 2007, beat 12th seed Nadia Petrova 6-1 6-4.
"You go out there and it's 50-50," Clijsters, who was followed out of retirement by Henin, said of the match that will be the pick of the last 16.
"It's a great opportunity for both of us," Henin added. "I mean, to play each other again in a grand slam, I think it's something we couldn't expect a year ago."
Five-times champion Venus Williams steamed into the last 16 with a 6-4 6-2 defeat of another Russian, Alisa Kleybanova, while fourth seed Jelena Jankovic played her best tennis of the week to demolish Ukraine's Alona Bondarenko 6-0 6-3.
Williams will play Slovakian-born Australian Jarmila Groth while Jankovic is up against Vera Zvonareva who knocked out 15th seed Yanina Wickmayer.
Hewitt has now reached the last 16 for the past seven years at Wimbledon and his performance against the unpredictable Monfils was one of the highlights of the day.
The Australian saved three set points in the second set tiebreak on his way to a 6-3 7-6 6-4 triumph.
As the sun dipped down at the end of another warm day Roddick looked set for a struggle against Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber but the American's serve was as reliable as ever as he completed a 7-5 6-7 6-3 6-3 victory.
It was left to the ever-chatty Texan to have the final say on buddy Isner's heroics.
"Normally records in sports you say, 'Okay, eventually it will be broken.' That will never be broken, ever, ever, not even close."