Roger Federer was the victim of a ruthless onslaught at the hands of arch-rival Rafael Nadal in the men's semifinal at the 2014 Australian Open, but the crushing defeat is far from the end of the world for the rejuvenated star.
Federer simply had no answer for Nadal, with brief glimpses of aggressiveness only a way to delay the inevitable en route to a 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 6-3 defeat at Melbourne.
At this stage in his career, a loss to Nadal is expected of Federer—despite his flashes of modernization and health that may have hinted otherwise.
Bleacher Report's Dan Levy summarizes this notion best with a gander at sport's best rivalries:
Clearly Federer is on the outside of the dominant stage of his career, but he is looking for a resurgence this season. To be fair to both, if this article was written a few years ago, there is no doubt the rivalry between Federer and Nadal would be tops on the list.
The Federer-Nadal rivalry is historic, but far past its prime as the head-to-head record now stands at 23-10 in favor of Nadal, including a 9-2 tally at majors. Each clash draws the attention of the globe and this one more than others given Federer's comeback trail.
While the end result is a horrific look for Federer, especially when many considered him to have an advantage with Nadal battling a blister on his hand, it does not spell doom for the rest of his season.
Federer still has his health, which is perhaps most important of all. With injuries out of the picture, Federer was able to dominate on his way to the semifinal match, which as Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated suggests, can lead fans to believe that the tournament overall is something he can build off of moving forward:
But for five rounds he re-entered that trance of greatness, offering the world an uncanny impersonation of Roger Federer in his unrivaled prime. He attacked, he stopped slicing and belted his one-hander. He covered the court, hitting dazzling, creative shots. He beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Andy Murray. Federer is too rational and grounded not to realize the lost opportunity tonight and all it represented. By the same token, with some detachment, he is too rational not be encouraged by the improved state of his game.
Make no mistake—Federer understands the implications of his loss, but admits Nadal simply had the answer for the majority of his efforts, as the tournament's Twitter page captures:
Most of all, Federer's attitude should encourage supporters. He's back—gone are the excuses of previous years, where the weather, health or some other factor were to blame for losses. This time around, all the credit goes to Nadal.
In place of the excuses is a new attacking style, in part because of a new, modern racket but mostly because of the presence of six-time Grand Slam champion Stefan Edberg in his corner guiding the comeback trail.
That trail is far from nearing its end, especially so early in the season. It would be foolish to suggest Federer is gunning for the No. 1 rank but what he has shown early on suggests the legend has a few major wins left in him before he takes a bow from the sport entirely.
In the short-term, the loss to Nadal stings and will get the publicity. But keep the result in context—it is old news that Nadal's style flusters Federer.
A more modern Federer is on a tear to start the new season and has the look of one of the sport's top stars once more. One loss—to anyone—does not change an entire season's outlook, especially for a player of Federer's demeanor and caliber.