Men's Tennis

The State of Roger Federer as the Australian Open Approaches

Jeffrey RuthFeatured ColumnistJanuary 7, 2014

The State of Roger Federer as the Australian Open Approaches

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    Happy days at the Australian Open...but will they return?
    Happy days at the Australian Open...but will they return?Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

    Roger Federer should be in a pretty good state of mind as the 2014 Australian Open approaches. Already his year has begun better than last.

    The Swiss star chose to prepare for Melbourne in 2013 by arriving there and diving into the first round. He never really acclimated and looked unsteady from the early goings. Both Bernard Tomic and Milos Raonic forced him to tiebreakers, and he was taken to five sets in the quarters and semis, falling to Andy Murray.

    Even the most dispassionate fan of Federer knows that the year went straight downhill from there.

    In 2014 though, things are looking up. He jetted off down under well before the first Grand Slam and got to the final in Brisbane. Despite losing to longtime nemesis Lleyton Hewitt in the title match, it is clear that Federer has bigger things clearly in focus.

    Here's a breakdown of the key components of the state of Roger Federer.

Mindset of a Champion

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    Roger Federer is ready and raring to go as the 2014 campaign begins.

    The staff at ATPWorldTour.com had the chance to look inside his mindset, using Federer's own words to provide the analysis.

    I’m very hungry and eager to attack. I’m not thinking too far ahead. I’m not thinking short term. I’m definitely going there [Melbourne] to hopefully be there for a long time and putting myself in a good position. I’m looking back now, the last three, four months it’s been very positive going through Basel, Paris, and London. All three weeks in a row where I played a lot of matches, a lot of three setters as well. I did that for a full month, a lot of training, and now here I had another busy week and I’m actually holding up very good. So that's a good sign moving into 2014.

    That seems pretty well cut-and-dried. He has apparently forgotten about the dismal season that he suffered through last year and is concentrating on the highlights and strengths leading to this one.

    It is the mindset of a champion and displays a solid opener regarding his mental state entering the Australian Open.

The Racket Dilemma

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    Roger Federer and new racket, Brisbane 2014.
    Roger Federer and new racket, Brisbane 2014.Chris Hyde/Getty Images

    Probably the greatest distraction Roger Federer faced in 2013 was the racket debate. Courtney Nguyen of SI.com pointed out the connection between gear and results in her August 14, 2013 article. After confirming that Federer was switching back to his old 90-square inch frame, she launched the next paragraph with a note about his worst loss of the year.

    Many observers felt that way.

    The Wall Street Journal's Tom Perrotta compared the on-again off-again racket game to a "midlife crisis." Especially after losing in Hamburg to qualifier Federico Delbonis in his debut with the larger equipment, pundits were declaring the end of the star's success.

    Things have changed. Federer has switched to a new frame, apparently for good. He looked confident in his year-opening matches at Brisbane. At least one news outlet links that change to a chance for the Swiss to regain No. 1.

    The dilemma of what's in the bag is over. Game on.

How Is the Back?

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    The Australian hard courts will test Roger Federer's back in 2014.
    The Australian hard courts will test Roger Federer's back in 2014.Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

    Perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle when it comes to evaluating the state of Roger Federer is what's behind him: his back.

    It's no secret that the long-running injury nagged him from the start of 2013. By year's end, the sports world agreed with Serena Williams' coach Patrick Mouratoglou when he remarked to CNN that, "[Federer] lost many matches because of the back, he lost confidence because of that and also he cannot practice the way he wants because his back is hurting."

    By July, Federer himself admitted that the back injury was contributing to losses.

    And now?

    This is hard to say, for sure. In the midst of his struggles after Wimbledon, there was a point at which he declared the back injury to be under control. It clearly wasn't. Now he says that "movement is not an issue anymore," according to The New York Times.

    Can he be trusted this time around? We'll only know when he comes through the Australian Open, win or lose.

What Does the Coach Say?

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    Former Wimbledon champion Stefan Edberg will be watching Roger Federer closely in 2014.
    Former Wimbledon champion Stefan Edberg will be watching Roger Federer closely in 2014.Julian Finney/Getty Images

    According to AlJazeera.com, Roger Federer is merely joining a trend by hiring Stefan Edberg as his coach. Will this benefit him more than the other players?

    Absolutely.

    This is the key to determining the state of Federer as 2014 arrives. Too often has the former No. 1 relied upon himself and his choices when it comes to his game. Federer may have called his time spent with Paul Annacone "terrific," but it wasn't.

    Will Swanton, writing for The Australian, points out what much of the sporting audience have long suspected: "...Federer finds it increasingly difficult to listen to any voice other than his own."

    But then he goes on to identify something even more accurate: There is an exception to every rule, and the exception is Stefan Edberg in this case. That is because this time around Federer has brought someone on who is bigger than himself.

    The Swede is his childhood hero.

    Count on Federer listening intently to what his coach says now and on him turning this new relationship into tournament titles.

Some Thoughts from His Foes

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    The main faces of men's tennis will surely meet often in 2014.
    The main faces of men's tennis will surely meet often in 2014.Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Nobody knows Roger Federer and his tennis better than his opponents. They spend the entire year around him, with him and playing against him.

    What do they think about his state coming in to Australia?

    Rafael Nadal looked ahead to this moment this past October. According to a Reuters report, the Spaniard felt confident of Federer's ability to return to greatness. He forecast that if the four-time Australian Open champion worked hard in the offseason, he would be back playing great next season.

    Done.

    Milos Raonic agrees with Nadal. In an interview with ATPWorldTour.com the big-serving Canadian opined, "He knows what he needs to bring out from himself to get to [win another major]."

    Even Novak Djokovic, who is focused on winning more Slams for himself in 2014, stated to Sport360.com that Federer can probably win a major in the upcoming season. He then hedged his bets a bit, saying that this would depend on the other players, too—but it almost sounds like he didn't want to give too much to the Swiss opponent.

    Time will tell, and soon. Australia 2014 is on the horizon and Roger Federer has attracted the attention of his closest rivals.

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