Paris: Two years after ending his long wait for success at the French Open, Roger Federer arrives in Paris facing questions about whether he still has the drive to return to the pinnacle of the sport.
After beating Robin Soderling in straight sets in the 2009 decider to claim his first Roland Garros crown, Federer secured a sixth Wimbledon singles title before going on to lift the trophy at last year's Australian Open.
That triumph in Melbourne remains Federer's last Grand Slam final appearance, however, and his current run of four majors without making the final is his longest such sequence since 2003.
With defending Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal and man-of-the-moment Novak Djokovic having both overtaken him in the world rankings, critics have claimed that, at 29, Federer's career is beginning to wind down.
Adding to the sense of decline is the stark fact that Federer has not beaten Nadal or Djokovic in his last five meetings with either man.
Djokovic, currently unbeaten in 37 matches since the start of the season, has won his last three encounters with the Swiss great, including a straight sets victory in the semi-finals at this year's Australian Open.
Nadal has back-to-back wins over Federer to his credit; a 6-3, 6-2 success at the Miami Masters in March and a 5-7, 6-1, 6-3 victory on clay at the Madrid Masters earlier this month.
Federer was beaten by France's Richard Gasquet in the third round at last week's Rome Masters -- the first time he had failed to reach the quarter-finals of a tournament since falling at the same stage of the same event last year.
The 16-time Grand Slam-winner has never dominated on the Paris clay as he has on the grass of Wimbledon or the cushioned acrylic of Flushing Meadows, but he insisted his early exit in Rome would do him good.
"I'm feeling great now and I'll practise when I get to Paris," said Federer after losing 4-6, 7-6 (7/2), 7-6 (7/4) to Gasquet.
"That's the plan so it's the same as the last few years, only that this time I will get a couple more days of practice, which isn't bad."
Speaking prior to the tournament in Rome, Federer conceded that he had slipped behind Nadal and Djokovic in the current pecking order but said his sights were still set as high as ever.
"It's important for me to get back to world number one," said the Swiss, who has won one title this year, in Doha in January.
"I mentioned it after Wimbledon, it's a goal of mine and it's still very real and very possible.
"I still have the World Tour Finals in my pocket, I don't have a Grand Slam in my pocket, but if I win one it changes everything.
"These guys (Nadal and Djokovic) are playing better than me and other players. Novak has won a lot of tournaments, like Rafa, but I'm getting closer.
"Not much has changed for me from when I was number one. With (Andy) Murray or Novak or even Rafa occasionally in my draw it was always hard.
"Everyone is so consistent. It's not like you can say Murray is bad on clay or Rafael is bad on grass. Everyone can play on every surface.
"I'm as optimistic as ever."
The pens may be poised in the hands of the career obituarists, but Federer is not prepared to retire from the limelight yet.