First came the end of Roger Federer's remarkable run of reaching a record 10 consecutive Grand Slam finals.
Then he failed to make it to a major semifinal after a record 23 in a row.
The U.S. Open marks Federer's last chance to prevent the close of another streak: In each season from 2003-10, he won at least one Grand Slam title — and sometimes as many as three. He's 0-for-2011 heading into the year's last major tournament, where play is scheduled to begin Monday morning, after what the U.S. Tennis Association said was "minimal damage" to the site over the weekend from Tropical Storm Irene.
This U.S. Open also is Federer's first major tournament since he turned 30 on Aug. 8. That age tends to represent a barrier to success in tennis: Of the past 100 Grand Slam titles, only five were won by a man past his 30th birthday. The last to do it was Andre Agassi at the 2003 Australian Open.
Federer, though, said that his age hasn't affected his expectations.
"Hasn't changed anything. I'm still as professional. I'm still as hungry. Everything's still completely normal," he explained. "It's just a number that's changed. I'm ready to go."
His resume is filled with some rather impressive numbers, including a total of 16 Grand Slam titles and five consecutive U.S. Open championships from 2004-08, before his 40-match winning streak at Flushing Meadows ended in the 2009 final against Juan Martin del Potro. Last year, Federer lost in the semifinals to Novak Djokovic.
For his career, Federer is 223-33 in Grand Slam matches, an .871 winning percentage. He can tie Agassi for the second-most victories at majors — Jimmy Connors retired with 233 — by beating 54th-ranked Santiago Giraldo of Colombia (who, for the record, is 2-10 in Grand Slam play) on Monday.
They're slated to play their first-round match in Arthur Ashe Stadium at night, after seven-time major champion Venus Williams meets Vesna Dolonts of Russia.
Other matches on the Day 1 schedule include 2006 U.S. Open champion Maria Sharapova against Heather Watson of Britain; reigning Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova against Alexandra Dulgheru of Romania; 2010 U.S. Open runner-up Vera Zvonareva against Stephanie Foretz Gacon of France; 19-year-old American Ryan Harrison against No. 27-seeded Marin Cilic of Croatia; and No. 8 Mardy Fish — the highest-seeded American in New York for the first time — against Tobias Kamke of Germany.
With 2005, 2009 and 2010 champion Kim Clijsters sidelined by a stomach muscle injury, the third-seeded Sharapova joins Williams' younger sister, Serena, as the women considered most likely to win the title two weeks from now.
"I mean, to be honest, I have been seeded a lot lower, and I've still been one of the favorites," Sharapova said, "so it's not anything new for me that people expect me to do well."
For the first time since the 2004 Australian Open, neither Federer nor Rafael Nadal is seeded No. 1 at a Grand Slam tournament.
Instead, that honor went to Djokovic, who is producing one of the greatest seasons in tennis history. He's 57-2 with nine titles, including at Wimbledon and the Australian Open. He's also 5-0 against Nadal, with all of those matchups coming in tournament finals: two on hard courts, two on clay, and one on grass at the All England Club last month.
"The record speaks for itself," Federer said. "It's been an amazing run, and he's still playing really well, and he's definitely one of the favorites here — if not the favorite."
With two-time U.S. Open runner-up Djokovic at No. 1, and defending champion Nadal at No. 2, Federer is seeded No. 3, his lowest spot in New York since he was 13th in 2002.
Even though Federer only has one title so far this season, his lowest total in a decade, and he's gone the past six major tournaments without a championship, he's sure he has more success in store. He still is capable of producing masterful tennis, such as when he ended Djokovic's 43-match winning streak by beating him in the French Open semifinals.
That's why someone such as seven-time major champion John McEnroe doesn't discount Federer's chances of collecting a 17th Grand Slam trophy at some point.
"This guy is arguably the greatest of all time," McEnroe said. "He's still playing some great tennis."
Federer takes inspiration from past players who played well in their 30s, such as Ken Rosewall, Jimmy Connors and Agassi, who was 35 when he lost to the Swiss star in the 2005 U.S. Open final, a year before retiring.
"I feel my game allows me to still play for many more years, because I have a relaxing playing style. I have almost played 1,000 matches on tour and that leaves its toll, but I'm very professional when it comes to massages, stretching, diet, sleep, all of that stuff," Federer said. "So I have always looked in the long term. ... That's why I'm confident I can still play for many more years to come at the highest of levels."