Rafael Nadal headed back to Mallorca on Saturday after a dismal US Open campaign, and his career seemed at the point of no return.
The great Spanish warrior was once again fending off questions over his future in the sport, just as he had done after quarter-final exits at the Australian and French Opens and a second-round loss at Wimbledon.
The 29-year-old, 14-time major winner crashed to his earliest exit in New York in 10 years at the hands of an inspired, straight-shooting Fabio Fognini, the 32nd seed, in the early hours of Saturday.
The third round loss also meant that, for the first time since 2004, Nadal would go through a season without at least one Grand Slam title.
In a 2am media conference full of mixed messages, he admitted that he was slower than in his pomp before quickly qualifying that statement with an insistence that he was only joking.
But the facts tell a different story.
Fognini fired 70 winners past Nadal in his 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 win, his third victory over the Spaniard this year.
The Italian also broke serve nine times, including seven breaks in succession.