Is Roger Federer playing better than ever?
Before we start, a prediction; you will find below, unless you are the first poster, a rather lively debate. It's going to be argumentative, and it could get a little rough in there, but it's going to be passionate and that's what these pages are all about!
The debate began on the radio last week, leading to a minor stir in the press and replies to @5livetennis in a total twitter-tizzy.
The question is about Roger Federer, the six-time ATP World Tour Finals champion who sealed the 2011 title at the O2 in London with a three set win over brave Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a stirring final on Sunday.
Whether now, at the age of 30 and with a world ranking of three, Federer may actually be a better player than, say, five years ago as the undisputed world number one.
Before you hurl blog-bog in my direction (please, my suit needs to stay fresh for our end of season lunch) remember I am simply posing the question rather than put my neck on the chopping board. For now.
Can anyone say for certain that Roger Federer is a worse player these days? He may look it, statistically, but as he said the other day; "It's only logical to improve as a player".
So is he actually better? Is there an argument which would stand tall in the court of BBC Blogdom? Either way, I want to hear it.
My first thought on the matter is that it's too easy to base any claim of Federer decline on losing more matches than he used to, or his woeful (!) ranking, or his inconsistency.
He loses more matches because he's got a handy trio - Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray - as his nearest rivals. His other losses this year have come to fine talents Tomas Berdych, Tsonga and Richard Gasquet with his defeat to Jurgen Melzer in Monte Carlo the only real shocker.
First Nadal and then Djokovic raised the performance bar, just as Federer did a few years back. That, in part, explains the inconsistency as he can't dominate like a few years back.
But, more importantly, players believe they can beat him now. They don't check out mentally like they used to, therefore comeback wins are more frequent against a Federer perceived as being more fallible.
Should this not always have been the case? Lower-ranked players used to be beaten in the locker room and this invincibility factor unquestionably played a big part in Federer's peak 2004-2007 period.
Now he faces greater belief, harder ball, tougher matches, more losses. Does that make him a weaker player, or not?
What about his game. The serve appears just as good, the slider out to the forehand side of the deuce court particularly effective, but I think he misses more volleys.
His backhand is better. More variety, fewer frames. ("Everyone played into my backhand", he said this week, "so it was always going to get better") He may be a touch slower, that's the common consensus, but has anyone clocked him on sprints lately?
His movement appeared slightly better in his all-conquering pomp yet, again, how do we prove this is not a consequence of a better ball coming at him? Is he just being made to look slower?
And so we come to the area where he has really taken a hit in the last two years; closing out matches from winning positions.
He could, of course, do nothing about the amazing forehand return Djokovic hit in New York, scraping the line in the semi-final, but these are not positions one would have expected the "old" Federer to let slip.
Even on Sunday night at the O2 we saw him blowing a 5-3 lead in the second set and a 5-2 lead in the subsequence tie-break.
Fresh belief of his opponents - Tsonga hit some great shots with his back to the wall, like at Wmbledon - or mental deterioration on Federer's part?
It was interesting to hear him speak about needing to recharge mentally after "doubts" surfaced in the wake of the US Open.
He skipped Asia and has not lost a match (17-0) since his New York defeat. He says he's tired but he looks fresh.
Thanks to Djokovic, the level of men's tennis has hit new heights this year. I remember sitting with Murray, can't remember where, and he said the standard has gone through the roof even in the relatively short time he's been around.
Federer's title success at the ATP Tour Finals, a third trophy in as many tournaments at the end of the season, sets him up perfectly for 2012, a huge year for him with the Olympics and the challenge of ending a two year major drought.
He'd love nothing more than to show the kids he can still improve, can be a better player, and if that happens he wins more majors. His rivals have made him appear in decline but, come the start of the year, they could be looking over their shoulders at the man with the experience, the desire and - still - the talent.