Once hailed as the bloodhound and bulldozer of men`s tennis, David Ferrer may as well have been the man who wasn`t there.
The 32-year-old Spaniard, widely regarded as one of the finest players never to have won a major, has had the misfortune to be plying his trade in the same era as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
Now, after suffering his earliest US Open exit for five years courtesy of a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 defeat by Gilles Simon on Sunday, even the super-fit Ferrer was feeling the pace.
As his third round match slipped away against a player he had previously defeated five times in six meetings, Ferrer wilted in the heat and humidity, leaning on the backboard of the Louis Armstrong court, feeling his side and occasionally gasping for air.
"It was tough match today. There was a lot of humidity, very sunny, and it was not easy for me. I was not good with my fitness," said Ferrer, a two-time semi-finalist in 2007 ande 2012.
"But it`s one match of my career. Don`t worry."
Despite attempting to shrug off his latest setback, signs of Ferrer`s decline were obvious at Wimbledon where his streak of 10 straight Grand Slam quarter-finals was ended in the second round by Russia`s Andrey Kuznetsov.
That was his earliest loss at any major since 2010.
He made the quarter-finals this year at the Australian and French Opens where, in 2013, he had been a semi-finalist and runner-up respectively.
That Roland Garros final defeat to Nadal saw him win just eight games.
But he has always insisted he is not bitter, believing his record week-in, week-out on the tour is worthy of respect -- he won his 21st career title in Buenos Aires in February and was runner-up to Federer in Cincinnati, the last significant warm-up event before New York.
"Tennis doesn`t owe me anything. Tennis is one of the fairest sports. It`s given me so many extraordinary feelings," said Ferrer after his Paris mauling at the hands of his Spanish compatriot in 2013.But Ferrer sensed changes were needed after his French Open rout and at the end of 2013 he dropped long-term coach Javier Piles in favour of Jose Francisco Altur.
It was a major rupture in a relationship which was forged in his younger days, a period which once saw him famously locked in a cupboard by Piles for refusing to practice.
Despite their parting, Piles never gave up hope that Ferrer -- at 1.75m and 73kg, the smallest and lightest player in the top 10 -- would win a major although the chances now are looking remote.
This year will be the first since 2010 that he has failed to make at least the semi-finals of a major.
"He has an incredible will to learn," said Piles. "He wants to learn in everything. He wants to be critiqued. He does not want praise, he wants information on how to get better. But what I am most proud of David is how he continues to seek knowledge."