For the first time in nearly a decade, Roger Federer will enter a Grand Slam tournament after failing to reach the quarterfinals in the previous Slam when he meets his first opponent at the 2013 U.S. Open.
You have to go all the way back to the 2004 French Open to find a Slam that saw a Federer-less quarterfinals round. He was eliminated in straight sets by Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten in the third round back then.
How did the living legend respond? By winning his second title at Wimbledon, of course.
This year, he'll face a similar challenge after being bounced in the second round at Wimbledon by Sergiy Stakhovsky. Federer lost in a grueling four-set match that went to a tiebreak in three of the four sets.
While it's a little unrealistic to expect him to respond in similar fashion at Flushing Meadows this year, it's completely reasonable to believe we'll see the 32-year-old back in the quarterfinals in the year's final Slam.
On the surface, it's easy to see why you might doubt that prediction. It's not as though Federer's struggles appeared out of nowhere at Wimbledon and quickly disappeared. He is just 32-11 overall this season and has just one semifinals appearance in a Slam to his name—at the Australian Open.
Since the loss to Stakhovsky, he's entered three tournaments and made the semifinals in just one.
However, that doesn't tell the whole story. Federer still has a run at U.S. Open left in him.
How far do you expect Federer to make it in New York?
It's true he's been to just one semifinal in the three tournaments he's played in lately, but just one of those—the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Ohio—was played on the same hard surface he'll see in New York.
In that tournament, Federer's form was as close to vintage FedEx as we've seen recently. Going back to his old racket after struggling in two tournaments with a new, bigger racket, Federer defeated No. 26 Philipp Kohlschreiber and No. 13 Tommy Haas before dropping a three-set match to No. 3 Rafael Nadal.
Even in his loss to Nadal, he showed he can still compete with the world's elite on his best days. Federer took the first set thanks to an excellent serve game and his strategy of consistently hitting the ball deep into Nadal's backhand, as Beyond the Baseline noted.
Federer takes he first 7-5. Great serving, great forehanding, vintage Roger. #XXXI— Beyond The Baseline (@SI_BTBaseline) August 17, 2013
He also finished the set on a high note, putting it away when it mattered most, per TennisTV.
Although he lost, there's something to be said for Federer taking out two ranked players and taking a set from the world's No. 3 on the same surface he'll be playing on in the final Slam.
Betting against Federer while his stock is down might be the trendy thing to do, but we shouldn't be too quick to count him out just yet. His return to his old equipment and his strong showing in Cincinnati give us reason to believe he'll once again be a threat at the tournament he's won five times.