Never count out a legend.
Roger Federer, the 17-time Grand Slam champion, who looked down and dusted so often in 2013, is back in the conversation. With coach Stefan Edberg by his side and a new racket in his hands, the 32-year-old is back into the semifinals of the Australian Open for the 11th straight year.
But in order to get back into a major final for the first time since Wimbledon 2012, Federer is going to have to keep turning back the clock to get through the toughest opponent he's faced in his career, Rafael Nadal.
That's right, it's time for another "Fedal" clash. It used to be ritual that the two titans of the game would meet deep in majors at least once or twice a season, but with Federer's ranking dropping in recent years, that's no longer the case.
In fact, the last time the two met at a major was in the semifinals in Melbourne two years ago, when Nadal won in four tough sets. The two will finally meet again on Friday, giving Federer another shot at turning the tables against his familiar foe and at giving fans another opportunity to see this famous rivalry on one of the biggest stages of tennis.
Nadal leads the head-to-head over Federer 22-10, and he has won the last four in a row against the Swiss. He's even more dominant in majors. The two have met in 10 majors, with Nadal winning eight of those battles. Federer hasn't defeated Nadal at a major since the 2007 Wimbledon final, back when Nadal was just 20 years old.
Some might say Federer is doomed, while others would contend he's due.
Though Nadal is the No. 1 player in the world right now and coming off one of the best seasons of his career, and Federer is going in the opposite direction, there are reasons to believe this might be Roger's time to shine.
Over the past two weeks, Federer has actually looked to be in better form than the Spaniard. While Nadal has had to scrap his way through matches against players he far outranks, such as Kei Nishikori and Grigor Dimitrov, Federer has polished off in-form threats like No. 10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and No. 4 Andy Murray.
So far in 2014, Federer has a spring in his step and is competing with the hunger of an up-and-comer instead of going through the motions like a veteran on his way out.
A lot of that has to do with his new team member, six-time major champion Stefan Edberg. Edberg, the serve-and-volley master, was one of Federer's tennis idols when he was growing up, and having the coach around giving advice and providing support has clearly been a boost for Federer.
Federer's also waving a bigger wand on the court this year. After momentarily switching from his old 90-inch frame to a more modern 98-inch racket head last summer—and then back again after just a couple of rough tournaments—Federer has firmly committed to the bigger racket in 2014 and beyond, according to The New York Times' Christopher Clarey. The switch is definitely helping him get more pop on his shots, particularly his backhand, which was prone to shanks last year.
But most importantly, Federer is feeling healthy for the first time in over a year, and therefore was able to put in the fitness work he needed during the offseason to be in prime form in Australia.
As he said in an interview on Wednesday, per AusOpen.com, that's been making all the difference in his confidence level:
I've been feeling really well. Physically I know that I can do it. And then because I'm feeling good physically, then I can really think about tactics I want to play, how aggressive or how passive do you want to play. I have all these opportunities now.
Meanwhile, Federer's upcoming opponent has not been looking his best throughout the fortnight. Nadal has been dealing with an ugly blister on his hand, and he's been struggling to find his first serve and the range on his usually lethal forehand.
When you combine those points with the fact that it's supposed to rain on Friday night—meaning the roof in Rod Laver Arena might be closed, which would give Federer the indoor conditions that he loves and Nadal doesn't—it's hard not to give him a chance in this one.
He's certainly not counting himself out.
"Clearly when you're in the semis you start dreaming," Federer said, per AusOpen.com, after he defeated Murray. "There's no doubt about that."
It would be a huge deal for the player, whom many consider to be the greatest of all time, to get back to a major final after so many have recently counted him out. It would be especially sweet if it happened this late in his career, in this particular tournament, with one of the toughest slam draws he's had in his entire career.
Federer is certainly the underdog headed into this match, but underestimate him at your own peril. It's time to see if the man fan's call the Swiss Maestro has a few tricks left up his sleeve.
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