Paul Newman: This could be the beginning of the end for the best ever player

You write off Roger Federer at your peril, but might we have seen the best of the six-times Wimbledon champion? Failing to reach one Grand Slam semi-final, ending a run of 23 successive appearances in the last four, might be regarded as careless, but to follow up his quarter-final exit from last month's French Open with defeat at the same stage here hints at a more long-term pattern.

There were similarities between Federer's defeat to Robin Soderling in Paris and his loss to Tomas Berdych yesterday. Both his conquerors are big-hitters who found the consistency to keep the Swiss at the back of the court, denying him the chance to attack. The nature of the former world No 1's game is such that he usually makes a steady flow of errors, but they are usually rendered irrelevant by the torrent of winners.

Through his career Federer has enjoyed remarkable fitness – this was his 43rd successive appearance at a Grand Slam tournament – but, with his 29th birthday approaching, the years and nearly 900 professional matches may finally be catching up with him. The Swiss has not been at his best physically in recent months, a lung infection having hindered his spring programme and leg and back injuries troubling him here.

How much yesterday's defeat owed to Berdych's form rather than Federer's frailties we may find out over the next few days. At one stage the Czech looked one of the best of a potentially great generation of emerging players – one that included Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray – but he has taken time to realise his potential. Reaching two successive Grand Slam semi-finals hints at big things ahead for the world No 13.

You would never discount the possibility of Federer still adding to his tally of 16 Grand Slam titles or winning Olympic gold at Wimbledon in 2012, but regaining his world No 1 ranking might be beyond him. He may be destined to remain for ever on 285 weeks at the top of the rankings, just one week shorter than Pete Sampras' record.

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