The 17-time grand slam champion has not reached the final of a major since winning Wimbledon in 2012, and succumbed to an early exit at the hands of Gulbis, who triumphed 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (7-3) 6-2 4-6 6-3.
It was a composed and an excellent all-round display from the Latvian as he secured the biggest victory of his career to equal his best performance at a grand slam, having reached the 2008 French Open quarter-finals.
Gulbis will now face sixth seed Tomas Berdych in this year’s quarter-finals after the Czech overcame big-serving American John Isner 6-4 6-4 6-4.
Fourth seed Federer showed impressive resolve to fight back from a break down to take the opening set on a tie-break.
The Swiss forced another tie-break in the second set, twice responding immediately after dropping serve.
However, the Court Philippe Chatrier crowd was given an example of Gulbis’ character as he shook off those missed opportunities to level the match.
And the 18th seed, who totalled 53 winners in a fine performance, carried that momentum into the third set, which he won comfortably by breaking the Federer serve twice more.
But Gulbis, for all the positive aspects of his performance, drew the ire of the Roland Garros crowd when he went off for treatment on his back in the fourth set with Federer ahead 5-2.
Gulbis then immediately won the next two games, which only served to increase his unpopularity, before Federer recovered his nerve to set up a decider.
It did not take long for Gulbis to strike the crucial blow in the fifth, though, Federer sending a forehand wide in his first service game to hand the Latvian a break and a 2-0 lead.
And that proved to be a costly error as a nerveless Gulbis confidently closed out the victory, marking the first time that Federer has failed to reach the last eight at Roland Garros since 2004.
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