Oh dear. After a quite sublime approach on his journey to the season's end at Greenwich, with back-to-back tournament wins in Basel and Paris, something is a little bit up with Roger Federer's tennis.
He defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the opening match of the ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena on Sunday but, in the hour and 28 minutes it lasted, the world No4 looked at ease only in a 21-minute first set and towards the end of the third.
The core of his problem was his forehand. Seven of his 20 unforced errors came on that wing, where he is normally so commanding, and some cleared the boundary by several feet.
The shot is a barometer of his game. When it goes, so, usually, does the rest of his tennis but he gathered himself in a minor crisis, as he has done many times before and completed the job calmly.
The forehand could hardly have malfunctioned at a more embarrassing time: two days after gently chiding Andy Murray for the quality of his three recent wins in Asia and a third of the way through his opening match in defence of his title.
He won the first set 6-2 in 21 minutes, as Tsonga's game went to pieces in the face of a solid serve, commanding ground strokes and well-judged volleys. It was all looking so easy for the 30-year-old Swiss.
But Federer dropped the second by the same margin in an astonishing reversal of form, unable to handle a resurgence by Tsonga, who finally came to life in the third game and won nine points in a row before closing out the set.
He went punch for punch with the Frenchman in the third to 4-4, held serve, then had three match points before finishing it with a backhand for 6-4, with Tsonga stranded at the net. It was a win that left the capacity house slightly underwhelmed but, in this round-robin format, Federer has plenty of time to regroup.
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