NEW YORK — Surrounded by a half-dozen tournament security guards, Roger Federer made the long, slow trek across the U.S. Open grounds from the court in Louis Armstrong Stadium to the locker room in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Head down, he carried a racket bag on his left shoulder.
The hour was a little past 8 p.m. on Monday evening, one week to the day before the men’s final is scheduled to be played in Flushing Meadows, and Federer was, once again in this difficult season, heading home far earlier than he is used to at Grand Slam time.
“Confidence … takes care of all the things you don’t usually think about,” Federer said. “But I just think it’s been a difficult last three months, you know. Maybe … my consistency is just not quite there.”
This is the first season since 2002 that Federer did not reach at least one final at any of the four Grand Slam tournaments. That year also marked the last time Federer was ranked lower than he is now at No. 7.
He exited in the semifinals at the Australian Open in January, the quarterfinals at the French Open in early June, and the second round of Wimbledon — against a player ranked 116th, to boot — in late June. That ended Federer’s record run of reaching at least the quarterfinals at 36 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments.
Now, thanks to Robredo, Federer has a new, unwanted streak: Two consecutive losses before the quarterfinals at majors. This time, the early exit prevented Federer from meeting rival Rafael Nadal in the round of eight at Flushing Meadows, where they have never played each other.
In an interview the day before the tournament began, Nadal spoke about how he and Federer “deserved a final here,” the way they met in four title matches at the French Open, three at Wimbledon, and one at the Australian Open (Nadal won six of those eight, part of an overall 21-10 head-to-head edge).
Nadal reiterated that sentiment after beating 22nd-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 on Monday night in the fourth round.
“Didn’t happen. (That doesn’t) mean cannot happen in the future. We’ll see. Hopefully,” the 27-year-old Nadal said of a U.S. Open showdown with the 32-year-old Federer. “But is true that we are getting older, so the chances are less today than five years ago.”
While Federer has been known in the past to chalk up poor performances to a bothersome back or bad weather, this time he kept uttering phrases that were critical of his own play against Robredo, against whom he’d been 10-0.
“I struggled throughout, which is not very satisfying, to be honest,” Federer said.