How would it feel if you were told that 2013 was the last time the great Roger Federer could legitimately enter a French Open tournament as a genuine favorite for the title?
I, for one, wouldn't know how to react.
Would you be stunned? Saddened? Circumspect? Or perhaps, for reasons you may or may not know how to give voice to, would you have been ready for the news? Could you have even preempted the teller?
Federer lost his quarterfinal match against Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-5, 6-3, 6-3.
The facts of the matter say you could have.
Miami, Monte Carlo, Madrid
There was just no way Federer could skip Miami and Monte Carlo, win just the one match in Madrid, not play any ATP 250 or 500 events to get himself in shape, be in the twilight of his career and, on top of all that, harbor any realistic hopes of winning the French Open ahead of the likes of Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal.
There was just no way.
So this loss was expected? Well, it's hard to say yes.
On some level, you had to be aware of Federer's capabilities on clay and how—even without a benign draw—he could quite feasibly make the final. For one, for much of the last seven to eight years, he'd been the second-best player on clay and had quite a good case for being an all-timer on the surface. And secondly, he did get a benign draw.
Yet, on another level, it was clear that having come into this tournament without any prior title wins in the year for the first time since 2000, Federer was on shaky ground form-wise and performance-wise.
Signalling the future
Reaction to the loss ranged from disappointment to, weirdly enough, thanks:
This was the first time, as a Federer fan, that I've ever been conflicted about whether I wanted Roger to win a match. I'm actually quite relieved he lost. If he beats Tsonga, we all know he's making the final. The last thing I want to see, given Roger's current form, is a Nadal/Federer final. I've been spared that and I'm thankful.
The loss to Tsonga was in many ways a long time in the making. The straight sets World Tour Finals final loss to Djokovic last November, despite having been a break up in both the first and second sets, was a possible beginning.
You may even go as far back as the quarterfinals loss to Tomas Berdych at the US Open, or even farther back to the Olympic finals loss to Andy Murray.
They were uncharacteristic losses by Federer's standards, but they were much more than mere losses attributable to advancing age and the corollary decline that comes with it. They were osteoclastic seeds of doubt that ate away at the aura of a great champion and would pave the way for more losses to the likes of Julien Benneteau and Kei Nishikori.
The culmination of these occurrences was the uninspiring loss at Indian Wells to Rafael Nadal, at the time only recently back from injury—a loss I feel may still have resonance this season.
Today, the bottom line has changed again.
Federer's loss today, having come despite having perhaps the most tailor-made draw he could ask for, is a deafening reminder of who is who in the men's game today.
What about Wimbledon?
The early prognosis from this loss is that Federer will likely never win the French Open again—what's Wimbledon got to do with it?