I don't know you, but I've seen you around.
I've seen you in your red "RF" cap sweeping through the grounds at Flushing Meadow, standing on the metro platform in Dubai, walking the fine sidewalk to Roland Garros.
I've read your bristly emails sometimes when I've dared to make a hint of a hint of a slight at your paragon of artistry, Mr. Roger Federer. I recall the hilarious one that called me "mean-spirited" for pegging him as the second-best tennis player on Earth, ahead of 6,999,999 other humans.
I've heard how some of you didn't really follow tennis until one day you noticed this guy from Switzerland doing things with a racket that did not please your eye so much as exhilarate it. You comprehend thoroughly why the retired French pro Fabrice Santoro once said, "I remember a few matches I played against him, and I was looking at him when I was playing, saying, 'Wow, how is it possible to play so well?'"
I know Tuesday must have been a real dud.
The beauty seemed exhausted, the fade entrenched. The French Open quarterfinal loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga lasted three perfunctory sets. The look of it sighed as much as the score.
Well, even though I don't know you, I'm still here to encourage. I'm still here to cling. I'm still saying that while this definitely constitutes a fade, this -- true to Federer custom -- remains one deeply impressive fade, maybe the best fade ever.
If it's normal to fade, Federer remains well above normal.
It's not only the buoyancy required to play in 54 consecutive Grand Slams, not only the towering consistency necessary to reach 36 straight Grand Slam quarterfinals, meaning an otherworldly 144-0 record in rounds one-through-four.
It's that he continues to stave off the Vast Anonymous.
After the 2010 Australian Open, Federer had won 16 of the previous 27 Grand Slam tournaments. Since the 2010 Australian Open, he has won one of 13. (Three guys -- and only three -- have shared those other 12.) You might view those 12 losses as demise, but the word "demise" is too strong. Just look at them.
His 12 non-titles include one loss in a final, six in semifinals and five in quarterfinals. Seven losses came against players ranked in the top three at the time. Ten came against players in the top 10. One came against a player ranked 13th, and one against a player ranked 19th. That's it.
Every player to defeat Federer in a Grand Slam since winter 2010 has spent time in the top five. The absurdly gritty, absurdly talented, week-in-and-week-out, top-notch players have nabbed him. The Vast Anonymous have not.
Do you remember Andrea Gaudenzi, Galo Blanco, George Bastl? They beat Pete Sampras in late-career Slams. Does that reflect negatively on Sampras? No. Hundreds of guys at any given time can play the game phenomenally and derail you on a given day. It happens, just not to Federer -- at all, yet.
The late-stage Andre Agassi -- pretty great stuff, there -- went down on certain days to Jerome Haehnel, Paradorn Srichaphan when he ranked No. 67, Jarkko Nieminen when he ranked No. 95. Ivan Lendl's gasps to the finish included Grand Slam losses to Bernd Karbacher, Neil Borwick, Stephane Huet, Christian Bergstrom, Jaime Oncins. None ranked above No. 62.
Boris Becker fell to Adrian Voinea, Rodolphe Gilbert, Patrick McEnroe the player, Neville Godwin (albeit in a retirement, which also doesn't happen to Federer). Stefan Edberg lost to Mikael Tillstrom, Jean-Philippe Fleurian, Dick Norman, Kenneth Carlsen.
These were abnormal upsets, but normal life. Happens.
Somehow, across these last 13 Grand Slams, with a cherished 2012 Wimbledon title amid, Federer still hasn't had a Bastl day.
The Bastl day kind of soars above the others for common lunacy. That's when the seven-time Wimbledon champion Sampras fell in five sets to No. 145-ranked, 27-year-old George Bastl in the second round of Wimbledon 2002. That was the Bastl who had never won a match at Wimbledon before that previous round, the Bastl who hadn't survived qualifying, the Bastl who had entered the draw only as a lucky loser when Felix Mantilla withdrew with an ankle injury.
That was the day the great Sampras said the assignment to smallish arena of Court No. 2 had displeased him, proving that even the most gracious and upstanding champions can grow embarrassingly coddled. And that was the day Bastl said of not playing on one of the two big stadium courts, "I never played on the other courts, so I don't know how it would feel on those courts."
And that was the day Sampras achieved realism when he said, "As predictable as I've been over the years here, you're going to have a match like this once every 10 years. And it happened today."
Except that it hasn't happened to Federer these last 10 years -- or especially these last three. So while I know this stage isn't so great for you in your red cap, and while I know it seems even melancholy, and the exquisiteness has dissipated into mere excellence, I daresay Federer's endurance above the fray still should mean something.