Roger Federer's quest for a fifth Australian Open championship came to an end in the semifinals at the hands of Andy Murray. The U.S. Open champ eliminated Federer in five sets, leaving plenty of questions about what the rest of 2013 will bring for the Swiss star.
It's the third straight year Federer was sent packing in the semifinal round Down Under. He also has just one title in the last 12 Grand Slam tournaments, which is way off the pace he set during his remarkable peak seasons.
His run in the Aussie Open was an example of what's happened quite frequently over the past few years. He cruised through the early rounds—despite a tough draw—and reached the quarterfinals without breaking a sweat.
The opponents he beat in the first four rounds were all solid players (Benoit Paire, Nikolay Davydenko, Bernard Tomic and Milos Raonic). The victories over Tomic, who had support from the home crowd, and Raonic were especially impressive.
That said, none of those players were in the upper echelon. Tomic and Raonic are both on the right path to reach that level in the future, and Davydenko was once there, but they aren't elite talents right now. Federer dispatched them all in straight sets.
Things changed in the quarterfinals, however. Suddenly the player standing on the opposite side of the net was one of those top-tier players in the likes of charismatic Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. It's the type of match that's changed for Federer.
In his prime, quarterfinal opponents—usually players ranked somewhere in the No. 5 to No. 12 range—weren't a major problem. That's why Federer made every Grand Slam semifinal from Wimbledon in 2004 to the French Open in 2010, where the amazing streak ended.
While they were great players who were capable of beating just about anybody else on tour, they weren't on Federer's level.
That's not the case anymore. Tsonga was able to force Federer to a fifth set, and while he didn't knock him out, he certainly took a lot out of the 31-year-old veteran. By the time the 17-time major winner reached the fifth set against Murray, he was running on empty.
One extra round of competitive tennis might not seem like much, but it's a significant hurdle and makes the seven-round journey to a championship exponentially more difficult.
That's why the days of Federer winning three majors in a season are very likely over. One major will be a good season and two majors, which used to be routine, would be a terrific season.
The same standards will apply for the rest of 2013. He already missed out on one opportunity, and he's never had much success at the French Open, so he'll likely have to set his sights on Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, where he's had his most success.
He'll still be a common presence at the business end of the big events, but he just won't win them as much as he once did. The Australian Open showed there probably isn't a miracle resurgence on the horizon. He's going to have to grind out tournaments like everybody else.
His best shot will be at Wimbledon, where his seven titles will probably make him one of the top two contenders. He still knows how to work his way around the grass courts of the All England Club better than anyone else.
Ultimately, it would be a success if Federer can finish 2013 with one major. It's not the standard fans once expected from him, but it's an achievable goal for the legend.