Roger Federer was dumped out of the US Open in a fourth round loss to Tommy Robredo last night, ending his hopes of a sixth US Open triumph in a defeat that could signal the complete demise of tennis's greatest ever player.
Federer was but a shadow of the man who powered his way to 17 previous Grand Slams in a performance largely reminiscent of his second round loss at Wimbledon two months ago, going down 7-6 (7-3) 6-3 6-4 to 19th seed Robredo.
It was a performance that Federer said left him "shell-shocked". He was not the only one. Not only did the 32-year-old Swiss make 43 unforced errors but was also only able to convert two of his 16 break point opportunities.
It was these statistics in a performance so uncharacteristic from the Federer of old that led him to say after the match: "I kind of feel like I beat myself, without taking any credit away from Tommy."
"I kind of self destructed, which is very disappointing, especially on a quicker court...it was a very frustrating performance today."
The result means that Robredo, who conquered British qualifier Dan Evans in the previous round, will face Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals; scuppering the much-anticipated first meeting between Nadal and Federer in Flushing Meadows.
The fourth-round tie had been moved onto the Louis Armstrong Stadium, Flushing Meadow's second court, following rain delays of more than four hours, meaning that Federer would be playing away from the main show-court for the first time since 2006.
The Swiss looked like he was struggling to adapt to his new surroundings with Robredo twice leading by a break in the opening set.
Although unable to serve out the set either time, however, the Spaniard managed to recover by dominating the tie-break 7-3 after capitalising on poor shot selection by Federer, whose attempts to charge in behind his second serve were brutally punished.
The shot selection made by Federer in the tie-break spoke of a man unsure of his game, and this image was only strengthened as the match progressed, with his erratic ground-strokes unable to give the Fed any kind of a foot-hold in the match.
Federer's forehand, a stroke that has been arguably the most fearsome shot in tennis in the last decade, was woeful. Three of Federer's 20 unforced forehand errors came in the pivotal game in the second set when 4-3 down, gifting the break and the set to Robredo, who saved two break points in serving it out.
Despite a lengthy toilet-break that hearkened back to the tactic adopted by Andy Murray in his US Open final triumph last year, the rhythm would not return to Federer, who was again broken to love when the scores were level at 3-3.
Robredo was from then on able to serve out the match, saving six break points to beat Federer for the first time in 11 meetings, whilst also inflicting Federer's earliest US Open exit in ten years.
The Spaniard, who had only previously ever won three sets against Federer, was understandably delighted at his victory that kept his startling renaissance at 31 going strong.
"It's amazing," Robredo said. "For me, Roger for the moment is the best player of all times. And to beat him in a huge stadium like the US Open and in a Grand Slam, a match of five sets, it's like a dream."
For Federer, who in losing has failed to reach a Grand Slam final in a calendar year for the first time since 2002, it is back to the drawing board. Whether he will ever recover from the two punishing defeats suffered last night and at Wimbledon it will remain to be seen, however the Swiss still remains optimistic that he will be able to return.
"I've definitely got to go back to work and come back stronger, get rid of this loss now as quick as I can, forgot about it, because that's not how I want to play from here on," he said.
Federer's spirit may not now be enough to compete with the best, however, as he faces a very realistic possibility of finishing outside the world's top eight and so missing the end of year ATP Master's showdown.
Even for his loyal fans, of which there are still thousands, the desire for Federer to retire when he is still able to produce something near the top of his game must be starting to cross their minds after another dis-heartening year, and whether Federer will ever be able to compete for another Grand Slam title is a very realistic proposition after last night's defeat.
The dream quarter-final the USA was hoping for between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer is off and, in all likelihoods after last night's showing from the great Swiss, will never happen.
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