PARIS: Roger Federer surveyed the wreckage of his worst French Open in 10 years and despite his optimism that a record eighth Wimbledon title is within his grasp, history and time are conspiring against him.
In the immediate aftermath of his 6-7 (5/7), 7-6 (7/3), 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 defeat to Ernests Gulbis, which was his earliest loss in Paris since 2004 when he was demolished in the third round by Gustavo Kuerten, Federer was talking a good game if not necessarily playing one.
Victory on Sunday would have put him into a record 42nd Grand Slam quarter-final and 10th in a row in Paris.
Instead, it was the wild-haired, outspoken Gulbis, seven years his junior, who had become the latest likely lad to puncture the Swiss legend.
Once again, even the brief grasscourt season, squeezed between the European claycourt stretch and the hardcourt swing through North America, appears to no longer be the safe haven it was once.
“For every match you can’t necessarily explain why you lost. Sometimes you’re more disappointed; sometimes less,” said Federer whose appearances in Paris are yielding steadily diminishing returns.
Runner-up in 2011, he was a semi-finalist in 2012 and was stopped at the quarter-finals last year before Gulbis added further insult with a fourth round exit on Sunday.
“What’s done is done. I’m happy to leave now and do something else.”
What he better not do is review his recent statistics at the majors.
Federer won 16 of his 17 Grand Slam titles between 2003 and 2010.
Since then he has just his seventh Wimbledon title to show for his efforts.
Where in the past he would be losing late in tournaments to the likes of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, he is now being mugged by the Hoi Polloi.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beat him at Roland Garros last year before Ukraine’s Sergei Stakhovsky, who was world number 116 at the time, beat him in the second round at Wimbledon, his earliest exit from any major since a second-round loss at the 2003 French Open.
It was also his worst defeat at the All England Club in 11 years.
Things did not improve at the US Open where 31-year-old Tommy Robredo sent him to his earliest New York exit for a decade as the Swiss failed to reach a final of any of the Grand Slams for the first time since 2002.
“Stakhovsky, that was a shock because I knew the danger, but I did not expect to lose in Wimbledon in the second round after so many years,” said Federer on Sunday.
“And the defeat against Robredo, that was a difficult year last year in the US Open. It was probably the toughest for me. It was wet, wet conditions. I was trying to understand where I stood.
“But this time (against Gulbis) I was in good shape, and I think I could have done better. That’s why I’m probably even more disappointed this time.”
Federer has now gone seven majors without reaching a final. With the exception of his 2012 Wimbledon win, his last and only French Open title was back in 2009, his most recent Australian Open triumph was 2010 while it’s six years since he reigned in New York.
He is convinced Wimbledon later this month will help lift the siege.
“I do feel so. When I’m healthy, like I have been now for the last six to nine months, I think clearly I can also decide the outcome of the matches more than I could last year.
“So I’m very excited about my chances for Wimbledon now this time.”
However, adding to Federer’s concerns is his age.
He will be 33 in August — the oldest man to win Wimbledon was Arthur Ashe who was 31 when he triumphed in 1977.
Of his contemporaries, Andre Agassi was 32 years and eight months old when he won his eighth and last major in Australia in 2003 while Pete Sampras was 31 when he clinched his final Grand Slam trophy at the US Open in 2002.
“Mentally I have already switched to the grass, to be quite honest. For me, it’s like, Okay, clay court season was fun, but we are moving on. Clay doesn’t need me anymore, I got flushed out here,” he said.