Roger Federer began this week by claiming that he wanted to challenge the incumbent domination of the tennis world by the duo Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Well, he'll be ending the week in the worst possible way.
Straight off an impressive performance in his semifinal match against Nadal in Madrid, where he played some of his best tennis, he arrived in Rome with great hope that some damage could be done.
Making light work of Tsonga yesterday in the second round, it was widely believed that a similar workmanlike effort would dispose of Richard Gasquet, but it wasn't to be.
It always hurts to lose, more so when one is accustomed to winning like Federer is, but when losing week in and week out is not because your opponent was better but because you were well below par each time -doubts start to surface and they begin to eat away at us.
There is no doubt that Roger Federer is a resilient character. His career is the exemplar model of resilience; winning 16 grand slam titles is no small feat. Being the world's best player for almost 4 years running is no mean feat either. To be considered the greatest player to have ever lived is an honor beyond all honors. Roger Federer is clearly the be all and end all of achievement in tennis as we know it -but that's now not enough to shield him from the chasing pack.
To say that Federer remains a contender for every Grand Slam event he enters, is a completely fair and valid point to make -but at this point in time, for the first time ever, it has become clear that making said point is simply an attempt to hide behind facts which as of now are redundant.
I love Roger Federer as much as I love tennis and I love tennis with all my heart, but the argument that his 16 slams or his previous achievements are enough to make him a contender -when it matters- is now non-sequitur.
With Nadal looking to capture the French Open and Wimbledon titles to hold off Djokovic's charge, we have a first cross-purpose.
With Djokovic aiming to claim the French Open and Wimbledon titles and looking to get the number one ranking, we have a second cross-purpose.
With Andy Murray looking to rescue a season that is spiraling out of control by getting points wherever he can and capturing his first Wimbledon and US Open title, we have a third cross-purpose.
With Juan Martin Del Potro looking to start to deliver on the promise he has shown by derailing both Nadal and Djokovic on clay and capturing his first French Open, we have a fourth cross-purpose.
These players are mentally and physically younger, fitter and stronger than Federer is -age has made it so. There are all these cross-purposes working against Roger Federer -does he really have a chance?
I can lie and say that he does and I'd be backed by evidence and facts. Being honest though, I'd sooner acquiesce that the competiton is just too strong than do that.
There are just too many contenders and hence too many cross-purposes -more importantly though, as Gasquet showed today, no longer is anyone a respecter of anyone else.