I'm ready for you, Roger Federer fans. I'm ready for your angry comments, your glares that I can feel permeating throughout the Interwebs, the snarky tweets that will accompany you linking to this on Twitter so your fellow Roger Federer fans can join your "let's all prove Timothy Rapp is wrong" crusade.
I'm ready for all of this because I know what I'm about to say will make people stand up in their chairs and shake their fists at this month's Fed-Ex Fan Club meeting.
Roger Federer's decline has begun. He won't win a Grand Slam this season. In fact, by the end of the year, we'll all be questioning if there is a "big four" in tennis or just the "big three" of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray.
Yeah, I went there.
I'm saying this because Fed-Ex didn't just lose to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the French Open quarterfinals, he got crushed, 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 in under two hours. According to the Associated Press (via ESPN), it was the first time he lost in straight sets before the semifinals since the 2004 French Open, but his fifth quarterfinal loss in the past 13 Grand Slams.
I'm saying this because Tsonga is a player who Federer was 9-3 against in his career, with Federer having won the only clay meeting between the two.
And I'm saying this because Fed-Ex hasn't won a single tournament this year. Not a single one. He's only reached one final, at the Italian Open, where he was crushed by Nadal, 6-1, 6-3.
But I'm a fair man, folks, so I'm willing to consider your counter-arguments.
I know that the French Open has traditionally been Federer's worst Grand Slam, evidenced by his one career win at Roland Garros compared to four Australian Open titles, seven at Wimbledon—including last year's triumph—and five titles at the U.S. Open.
I understand if you tell me not to overreact after one match at a tournament he traditionally doesn't win.
Then again, he didn't really struggle in just one match. It took him the full five sets to dispatch of Gilles Simon, a good player for sure, but not one you would expect to take Federer to the limit.
Next counter-argument: I know he took a two-month hiatus this season between March and May, which would explain his shaky play at times and helps to explain his lack of a single tournament win.
If you want to make the argument that he's still playing himself back into form, I get it, I really do.
But let's be honest, folks—we've all seen his game slowly decline. I'm not arguing he's suddenly on the downslope after the match against Tsonga. I'm saying his loss to Tsonga is indicative of Federer losing his grip on the elite level of players in tennis.
Since 2010, he is 13-20 against Djokovic, Nadal and Murray. In that time, he's won two Grand Slams, while Nadal has won five, Djokovic has won four and Murray has taken one (and also beat Federer to win gold at the 2012 London Olympics).
It's even more pronounced since 2011, as Federer is just 7-16 against the other three members of the "top four" in that time.
Look, let's be realistic here—Federer is still one of the best players in the world, but he's also 31 in a golden age of men's tennis, at least atop the rankings. A decline is not only understandable, it should be expected.
Roger Federer will win a Grand Slam this year.
As the greatest player ever—at least in my opinion—he really doesn't have anything left to prove.
So do your worst if you don't agree with my stance, faithful Fed-Ex fans, but know this—the decline isn't just upon us when it comes to Federer, it's been coming for a while now.
All good things must come to an end. In 2013, it will be Federer's reign as one of the truly elite players in his sport that finally fades away.