Roger Federer is once again staring down more questions than answers following another loss to Rafael Nadal at a Grand Slam. However, he at least did enough during the past two weeks at the Australian Open to confirm himself a threat in 2014.
The 17-time major champion was bettered by the sheer power and consistency of Nadal in Friday's semifinal, and must now regroup ahead of May's French Open, a tournament Federer has won just once over the course of his storied career.
While the 32-year-old has all of the experience and abilities required to right the ship and enter Roland Garros as a legitimate contender, the wear and tear that comes with more than a decade spent on tour has caught up with Federer.
Sure, his movement is still sublime, but when he meets the athleticism of Nadal, Federer looks short on confidence and appears to lack the belief he had in his prime.
Prior to his loss in Melbourne, Federer suffered an upset defeat at the hands of Lleyton Hewitt in Brisbane in which he seemed to lose confidence down the stretch. Afterward, the Swiss legend conceded there was work to be done, per BBC Sport: "I have a clear idea what I need to work on and I have a clear idea where my mind and body is at."
Federer improved drastically in Melbourne, beating Andy Murray en route to the semifinals to prove he is still a force, but there's little reason to believe he's poised for a breakthrough at the French Open four months from now.
Clay has never been Fed's favorite surface and he's 0-5 all-time against eight-time defending champion Nadal at Roland Garros.
With Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray all in the prime of their respective careers, it's likely Federer will have to wait for his own favoured surface—the grass of Wimbledon—before he mounts his next challenge for an 18th Grand Slam.
Following his troubling loss in Brisbane, The Guardian's Kevin Mitchell pointed to one of the key weaknesses in Fed's game:
The jitters have returned to Roger Federer's racket – or introduced themselves to his new one – and, although there is no cause for panic, mild concern is in order. The timing – like his wayward backhand when losing in three sets to Lleyton Hewitt in Brisbane on Sunday – is not ideal.
Although Federer's Australian Open defeat can't be pinned on jitters or nerves, his fluctuating self-assurance can't be overlooked as he heads into the meat of the season.
Federer certainly returned to a high level in Australia. But his struggles against Nadal have become a trend that suggest he'll be a massive underdog at the 2014 French Open.
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