The US Open starts today, and Roger Federer will defend his title at Flushing Meadows from an unfamiliar position—the No. 2 seed. Although he's won the tournament 4 years straight, a torrid 2008 has left the Swiss champion extremely vulnerable. "That twinkling star over his head has been replaced by an evil cloud," writes New York Times sports columnist Harvey Araton.
This year Federer has endured a "frightful thrashing" by Rafael Nadal on the Paris clay, defeat in a marathon Wimbledon final, a humiliation at the Olympics, and the loss of his No. 1 ranking. It's ironic then, that Federer's celebrity has never been greater, with his PR firm promoting ever more media opportunities. "The brand is established," writes Araton. "But who is this strangely diminished player that comes along with it?"