Roger Federer has the monumental task ahead of remembering how to beat world No. 1 Rafael Nadal, but doesn't it all feel like things are falling into place for this grand champion to take yet another major title?
Federer and Nadal are set to offer up the latest installment of their epic rivalry in the semifinals of the 2014 Australian Open. With Novak Djokovic already ousted and Federer fresh off of his victory over Andy Murray, the Swiss legend is closer to earning his 18th career Grand Slam title than many of us—myself included—ever thought he would get.
Coming off of a year where he won just one title and finished with (by his standards), a pedestrian record of 45-17, Federer was on the precipice of becoming irrelevant.
Last season, Federer was tallying up his wins against opponents that had little hope of beating him. Once he came against other top players, however, Federer often looked overwhelmed and a step too slow.
That isn't the case early in this season:
It certainly wasn't the case as he beat Andy Murray in the quarterfinals, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (8), 6-3. To me, that last set is the most impressive. Federer withstood Murray's comeback bid, and then confidently dispatched his opponent in the fourth set when his "experienced" legs should have been failing him.
There are a couple of major factors at play in Federer's early revival.
For starters, he has embraced the technology of the new racket. The new lightweight instruments of winners have polyester strings that afford players a combination of power and control, playing perfectly into the wrecking-ball right hand of Federer.
Although Federer may not be quite as nimble on his feet, he can make up for his lost step with his deadly shot-making.
The other big key here is that Federer has taken to working with former great Stefan Edberg.
From the outside, we can't pinpoint exactly what Edberg has brought to Federer's game, but it seems safe to say that Edberg's involvement has helped add a spark to Federer.
It is also safe to say that Edberg's involvement was at least somewhat aimed toward helping Federer improve against Nadal.
As Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim passed along, Federer, following his victory over Murray, offered up this insight into his dealings with Edberg:
I'm looking forward to speaking to Stefan because when he came to Dubai [during Federer's offseason training] and we spoke about the game, we clearly spoke about playing Rafa, as well.
Federer will have to hope those talks were fruitful. Nadal beat Federer all four times the two met in ATP action last season. That pushes Nadal's lifetime edge over Federer to 22-10.
Although their recent track record suggests Nadal will advance, Federer's recent form suggests he is ready to serve up Rafa a bit of revenge.
Federer has already convinced observers he's turned back the clock:
Federer's only lost set in Melbourne this year is the third set to Murray. He is on-point with his service game and ground strokes. He is ready to give Nadal all he can handle, and possibly then some.
Even if he loses, his strong play certainly highlights that, at 32, Federer has not yet reached the age where it is safe to write him off. That is a wonderful thing for tennis.