After struggling through much of his 2013 campaign, Federer's game has sparkled at Melbourne Park to this point in the proceedings. He's dropped just one set in five matches, and it was only Andy Murray's stubborn refusal to quit that caused the lone hiccup.
As Chris Skelton of Tennis View Magazine points out, he's already off to a rousing start to the 2014 season against top opponents compared to last year:
Federer already has more top-10 wins this year than he did through last year's US Open.— Chris Skelton (@ChrisSkelton87) January 22, 2014
But all of his progress to this point means absolutely nothing heading into the semifinals match against Nadal, who has traditionally owned his rival. The Spaniard has posted a record of 8-2 against Federer in majors, and a record of 22-10 overall.
The Swiss master will rely on tennis coach Stefan Edberg to assist him in overcoming his difficulties with Nadal. Edberg and Federer are in the midst of a 10-week collaboration effort to fine-tune his game, and the veteran hopes to gain some perspective before the big match, as noted by Razwan Mirza of Sky Sports:
The head-to-head record is in his favour. I'm looking forward to speaking to Stefan, because when we spoke together when he came to Dubai and we spoke about the game, we clearly spoke about playing Rafa, as well. He thought he had some good ideas.
In addition to his new coach, Federer has finally embraced the new technology and is using a lighter, bigger racket. Barry Flatman of the Sunday Times believes both aspects have allowed the veteran to turn back the clock:
Combination of Stefan Edberg & bigger new racket have taken about 6 years off Federer.— Barry Flatman (@Barry_FlatmanST) January 22, 2014
One of the reasons Federer has been so dominant thus far at this year's Australian Open is that he's been striking his first serve better than we've seen in months. Three times out of five he's won at least 87 percent of his first serves, while converting at least 78 percent of them in every match.
He'll need to be razor sharp in this regard once again against Nadal, who is one of the most relentless defenders on the planet. The King of Clay has looked smooth against the serve on the hard courts of Melbourne Park, breaking serve on 21 of 42 of his chances.
Who you got?
Overall, Federer has looked much sharper at the Australian Open than he did throughout the entirety of the 2013 campaign. He's moving well, attacking the net with a vengeance and getting that all-important first serve into play.
One area in which he'll need to improve is his return game, however, as he's been struggling to convert break-point opportunities. He only managed to convert four of 17 attempts against Andy Murray in the quarterfinals—a fact he's all too aware of, via the Australian Open:
#Federer "I'm prob 1 of the guys who misses more brk point opportunities thn others bt I'm kind of used to it. I try to keep my poker face."— Australian Open (@AustralianOpen) January 22, 2014
It's going to take everything in Federer's arsenal to beat Nadal. He can't afford to show up with anything less than his A-game for his 11th career majors match against the Spaniard. If he slips up even a little bit, then Nadal will grind out another big win.
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