Although not inconceivable, Roger Federer's recent performance is still a little surprising. Federer has only won three matches since his historic win at the Australian Open this year and was just ousted by 40th ranked Ernst Gulbis.
Fed's diametric change in performance (and attitude) since the Australian Open begs the question, what is going on? Surely the twins aren't keeping him up that late at night.
During a press conference prior to the start of the Rome Masters, Federer made an obvious but still revealing statement, "I would love to say that I'm the big favorite [at Roland Garros,] but I don't think that's quite right."
What's striking about this statement isn't that Federer does not think he's the favorite, but rather that he told us about it.
Let me explain, certainly Federer didn't think he was the favorite to win Roland Garros in years prior, but he still made sure to keep it to himself.
If anything Federer made statements that implied that he thought he had a good chance of winning.
It maybe telling that Federer has done a 180 in terms of his press conference strategy. In particular, Federer may very well be suffering from a lack of confidence because of his dismal record since the Australian.
Or he may be burnt out and as such setting realistic expectations for his fans. Most significantly however, it may mean that Federer has set into his decline. To be specific, Federer may be at the point in his career where his motivation, drive and passion are lacking.
What's different about this time from others when Federer demonstrated questionable drive is that Fed doesn't have much else left to fight for. He has solidified his status as one of the (if not the) greatest of all time, won a career grand slam, and in general accomplished more in his profession than most of us will in ours.
Historically, players' behavior on and off the court suggests something about their mentality. Case in point: Agassi. For Federer, losing matches and making defeatist statements during press conferences may be the analogues to Agassi's outbursts and poor life decisions.
It is important to note that Federer's statement cannot simply be cast off as a product of humility. Indeed, if this were the case, we would hear things like this from him more often; in particular when he was getting handily defeated by Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.
Thus, unless Federer has experienced a behavioral revolution in the last few months, there are probably more significant underlying reasons for his behavior.
Although we will have to wait and see how Roland Garros plays out, I'm not sure how long we can expect Roger to remain atop the world of Men's tennis. Indeed, Rafael Nadal has demonstrated his ability to bounce back with vengeance and Andy Murray is surely becoming one of the best currently playing the game.
Federer needs to figure out what's going on, otherwise we may see a new world number soon.