The end seems nigh for Roger Federer. His fans might scoff at that suggestion, pointing to similar headlines over the past three years, but it is a fact that is becoming increasingly self-evident.
Most tennis fans would love to see him keep playing the way he did between 2004 and 2007, winning 317 of his 342 matches and 11 grand slam crowns. In those four years, he took part in 66 ATP and grand slam tournaments and won 42 of them. And he did it with an elegance not seen in tennis for a very long time, if ever.
But no athlete wins forever. Just more than two weeks short of his 32nd birthday, the Swiss maestro this year has not able to blitz his opponents with his magical forehand.
The signs of his gradual decline have been around since 2008, but the second-round defeat at Wimbledon last month was a rude awakening for those in denial.
Federer had not lost to an opponent outside the top 100 since 2005, when the then-world No 101 Richard Gasquet beat him in the quarter-finals at Monte Carlo. The Swiss had reached at least the quarter-final stage at each of his previous 36 grand slam appearances. And then came Wimbledon. Who could have then imagined Federer's loss to the world No 116 Sergiy Stakhovsky?
"It is 10 years since Roger first amazed us with his artistry, but nothing goes on forever," former player and broadcaster John Barrett said after Federer's shock exit. "The surprise is that it has lasted as long as it has, at such a high level. His consistency has been quite staggering and there has been nothing even approaching it and I don't think there ever will be."
Stung by the Wimbledon defeat, Federer decided to make changes – dumping his vintage 90-inch racket for a 98-inch frame. He managed to beat the world No 58 (Daniel Brands), No 140 (Jan Hajek) and No 45 (Florian Mayer) with his new racquet in Hamburg, before getting dumped by the world No 114, Federico Delbonis, in the semis.
Remember Lance Armstrong's autobiography It's Not About the Bike? Likewise, it's not about the racket and Federer gradually will come to terms with this fact. Every sporting great – from Muhammad Ali to Steve Waugh and Sachin Tendulkar – has faced this situation, this reluctance to leave the stage.
Federer, for the moment, is defiant, promising to play on for years to come. But there could be a change of heart, should he lose more matches to journeymen who would have had trouble taking a few games off him just a year ago.
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE