All-time greats usually don’t know when to retire. Roger Federer is no different. Maybe he wanted 2013 to be some sort of sweet swan song, but it is turning out to be an awful season for the greatest tennis player of all-time, and his fourth round exit at the US Open should signal to him and everyone else that it’s time to quit.

Even if he has won 17 grand slam titles, you can’t run on greatness credit forever. Federer was ranked 7th going into the 2013 US Open, and couldn’t even win a set against Tommy Robredo, bowing out of the competition before the quarterfinal for the first time since 2003. He won’t lose too many points after making “only” the quarterfinal last year, but there have been too many signs on the wall.

Roger Federer Last Grand Slam

Federer has won only one tournament this season – the Gerry Weber Open leading up to Wimbledon. He has made only one more final – The Masters in Rome, losing to Rafael Nadal. He hasn’t beaten anyone beaten anyone in the top 10 except for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (8th at the time) in the Australian Open, which was somewhat of the last fumes he carried with him from a mostly successful 2012 season, that was probably the last great one for him.

It’s hard after being so good for so long to feel the fall, and recognize you can’t get up anymore. Federer keeps talking about feeling great and ready and believing in himself. But his back is hurting him, and the quickness, the stability of his forehand and everything else suggests that he’s just not elite anymore, not even remotely close.

While for other players around the world and the tour playing at this level is nothing to be ashamed of, it’s different when it’s someone who is a hero to so many people, and every loss that gets added to his overall account is like another scratch and stain on what was once an almost perfect painting.

Federer doesn’t have to retire. He does what he wishes, and has earned to right to bow down at his own terms. But does slipping so far down the rankings not make him realize that it’s never going to be the same? He’s been counted out several times during his career. In 2008 and 2009 when Nadal pushed him off the perch of number one, but that was something Federer dealt with. Again in 2011, when he didn’t win a single Grand Slam title. He bounced back from that as well with a fantastic ending to the season and a very strong first seven months in 2012.

It’s always hard for those watching from the outside to realize the inner struggles of a once great and unbeatable champion, facing his own sport-mortality. But Federer has been down this road for quite a very long time, and remaining on it instead of getting off it before it becomes truly embarrassing will only hurt his legacy. Fans don’t want to see beloved champions look normal, but Federer finds it hard realizing that it’s what he is right now. It’s not bad, but it’s not suitable for someone like him, who should take one final bow when the year is over, and leave once and for all, making the 2013 US Open his final Grand Slam appearance.

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