The most impressive player of the modern era at Stanley Street is gone - and who knows if Auckland tennis fans will see him again?

David Ferrer's surprise 6-2, 4-6, 6-7 (4) exit yesterday at the hands of Dutch journeyman Robin Haase felt like the end of an era.

Ferrer is a four-time champion in Auckland, a record equalled only by Roy Emerson. As well as his four titles, the Spaniard has also reached the semifinals on three occasions, and for a period was unbeatable in the Queen City. He won 14 consecutive matches between 2011 and 2014, when he was truly El Rey of Auckland.

But that time appears to be over. Before yesterday's match the odds on a Haase victory looked slim. Ferrer had only failed to reach the quarter-finals once in 11 visits, when he was shocked in the second round by Arnaud Clement in 2010.

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In his pomp, when he was ranked in the top five, Ferrer would have disposed of the Dutchman with ease. But the 34-year-old, after 17 years on the tour, has lost a bit of zip in his legs and some pop in his shot.

He started well, and took the first set in comfortable fashion, breaking the Haase serve twice and holding his own with relative ease. It felt like normal service had resumed, and the crowd settled back to watch another chapter of Ferrer's coronation.

But things switched early in the second set. Haase got some momentum and Ferrer couldn't find his range.

"In the first game of the second set I played so bad," said Ferrer.

"I lost my focus there and when the court is so fast it is not so easy to do a break."

Despite the Auckland crowd willing him on - in their understated way - Ferrer had lost the initiative and didn't look like getting it back.

"At the start of the tiebreak I did an easy mistake," said Ferrer.

"He served really well and in the third set I didn't have so many chances to get a break. He's a good player. In this moment of my career I'm not surprised about anything. I know every match is difficult and I respect everybody. I know if I don't play good or I don't have a very good focus on the match I can lose."

Ferrer was noticeably downcast after the match. He had looked on course for a record breaking fifth title last year, when he led Jack Sock by a set and a break in the semifinal.

But the American, who was suffering from flu symptoms, mounted an unlikely comeback. Now another Auckland triumph seems remote.

"I'm sad now ... it's normal I lost a tough match," said Ferrer.

"This tournament is very important for me. Tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow I will go to Melbourne and try as soon as possible to forget this match."

The 34-year-old was non-committal when asked if he wanted to play for another three years, like fellow veteran Roger Federer has recently stated.

"I don't know [the future]," said Ferrer.

"I am in 2017 and I am trying to find my best game. I am not thinking about if I will play next year, two years, three years. I don't know the future."