Although Roger Federer is undoubtedly one of the best players to ever step on a tennis court, his lack of dominance at Grand Slam events in recent years has led to the emergence of doubters. Winning the Australian Open is the best way to silence them.
Federer is the owner of a record 17 major titles, but has captured just one in his past 11 tries, last season's Wimbledon. He's also been knocked out in the quarterfinals four times during that stretch after reaching 23 straight semifinals.
Thus, the questions about how much the 31-year-old Swiss sensation has left in the tank are continuously raised as the season's first Grand Slam tournament approaches.
Even seasons that are terrific by the standards of all but three other players—Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and the injured Rafael Nadal—aren't viewed as good enough for Federer. Those lofty expectations are why the doubters are out in force.
To his credit, Federer continues to take everything in stride. His laid-back attitude is one of the main reasons he's been able to remain atop the tennis world for so long, and that hasn't changed with all eyes on him in Melbourne (via ESPN):
If I'm second favourite, fourth favourite or eighth or whatever it might be it doesn't change much for me. I know if I'm playing well I can win tournaments.
I love the pressure of playing the new generation who are coming up and improving quickly and I have to work harder than to stay at the top, or with the best.
Federer can still play tennis at an unmatched level, as he illustrated at Wimbledon last year. The only difference from his amazing run as No. 1 is that he can't do it on such a consistent basis anymore, which shouldn't be a surprise after grinding out over 1,000 matches.
Who will win the Aussie Open?
Consider that the level of competition outside the top four has strengthened in recent years and it becomes clear Federer's fading major results aren't a sign of a serious drop off. Instead, it's just a combination of many factors coming together at the same time.
Even so, a lot of the discussion and headlines are still dedicated to talking about his downfall. It's something that should motivate Federer more than anything else. Any competitor hates to hear about how they aren't the factor they once were.
Unfortunately for FedEx, the standards he set are so high that simply reaching the semifinals isn't enough to fend off the talk of his demise. He must win the event in order to prove he's still a serious threat in every Grand Slam he enters.
If anybody can do it, it's Federer.