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.
And the words he spoke after his surprisingly straightforward 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-4 loss to 19th-seeded Tommy Robredo of Spain made it sound as if Federer is having doubts about his game.
''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 caps a poor-by-his-standards Grand Slam season for Fed...