Today started out as a good day for Roger Federer.
In his French Open quarterfinal against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, he converted his first break point of the match to go up an early break in the first set.
To many, that might not seem like a huge deal, but to Federer fans who often rue their favorite player’s poor break point conversion stats, it was a sign. Federer was dialed in, focused and ready to win this match.
Unfortunately, not much went right for Federer after that.
With an onslaught of powerful serves and forehands from Tsonga and a plethora of errors from Federer, the Genius at Work landed at the wrong end of a beatdown.
In just one hour and 53 minutes, Tsonga advanced to the semifinals with a decisive 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 victory over the 17-time Grand Slam champion. It was one of the most lopsided defeats of Federer's Grand Slam career.
2013 has not been a great year by Federer standards.
He was straight-setted by Julien Benneteau in Rotterdam, defeated in a tight three-setter by Tomas Berdych in Dubai, crushed by Rafael Nadal on both hard courts and clay and taken down by Kei Nishikori a few weeks ago in Madrid.
He is midway through the season without a title and his only win versus top-10 opposition came against Tsonga in five sets in the Australian Open quarterfinals.
At the French Open this year, he was blessed with a wonderful draw. With both Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal nestled on the other half, the highest-ranked opponent he had to face before the final was David Ferrer, who he holds a 14-0 advantage over.
This was a great opportunity for him to make another run at the only Slam he hasn't won multiple times.
Yet when Tsonga got going, Federer had no solutions. He double-faulted on a break point, he missed overhead smashes into the net and he framed forehands. It was not pretty.
When Federer was in his prime, he was flawless. He had an answer for absolutely everything.
Now, on his off days, he often looks clueless. And as he gets older, Federer is beginning to have the off days more frequently. While this is completely normal, it's also rather jarring.
Because a lost Federer is such a jarring sight, the narratives surrounding him in the aftermath of this loss are going to be dramatic. People are going to say that he’s done. That he just doesn’t care. That he should retire.
Those statements couldn’t be further from the truth.
Federer is not done playing tennis, nor should he be. Despite his early-year struggles, he’s still ranked firmly at No. 3. Just last year, he got back to No. 1 in the world, made the finals of the Olympics and won six titles—including Wimbledon!
Federer obviously still cares about tennis. He wouldn’t keep playing if he didn’t and it’s downright insulting to think that he would merely go through the motions when he has nothing left to prove. He worships this sport and clearly loves competing.
Age might have decreased his dominance, but it hasn’t diminished his desire.
Federer should not retire until he decides the time is right. That’s not for a fan, a reporter or even a friend to speculate on.
But he is entering a new stage of his career. It's possible that it's the final stage, though only time will tell.
In this stage, the bad days are a bit more frequent and a bit more deadly.
It feels sudden, but it's actually been a gradual decline. Federer is not a tennis-playing robot. He does not possess magical racket-wielding powers. He is a human, and humans eventually experience decline in athletic performance.
Federer still has a whole lot going for him. He could still defend his Wimbledon title, make a run at the U.S. Open and win a few Masters events this year. He could still challenge Djokovic and Nadal on hard courts or grass if he was having a good day.
He has proven he can still produce jaw-dropping shots, such as his around-the-post winner earlier in this tournament.
Counting him out would be downright idiotic after all he has proven, but it's time to accept that there will be more days like today moving forward.
He just doesn't always have the answers like he used to.