Believe it or not, Roger Federer's loss to Rafael Nadal in the semifinals at the 2014 Australian Open bodes well for the Swiss star as the new season gets underway.
The 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 6-3 defeat at the hands of Federer's biggest rival certainly looks bad at first glance and is certainly a disappointment, but he played a stellar match all things considered.
As much as the world wants to make something out of the Federer-Nadal rivalry, it truly has been a lopsided affair and the outcome at Melbourne was almost expected—even with Nadal dealing with a blister inconveniently located on the palm of his hand.
As noted by ESPN.com's Matt Wilansky, Federer was honest in his post-match meet and even sounded as if he was not too surprised by the outcome:
It's a totally different match. I don't know how to explain you guys. It's totally different playing Rafa over anybody else. Playing Murray or Rafa is day and night.
It's not because of the level, necessarily, but it's just every point is played in a completely different fashion and I have to totally change my game.
No excuse. It's just a fact of what it is. I tried to fight that today, and he yeah, it's a different match -- very different.
Give credit to Nadal, who clearly has the formula and approach that flusters Federer in a way no other competitor can. The Spaniard, who faces Stanislas Wawrinka in the final, now owns a 23-10 head-to-head advantage over Federer, with a 9-2 mark at majors.
The matches before the loss to Nadal are what should be so encouraging to Federer fans. In those contests, the 32-year-old Swiss star flashed a version of his former self that was unstoppable thanks to his relentless attacks.
In his 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (8), 6-3 win over Andy Murray in the quarterfinals, Federer attacked the net an impressive 66 times. He remained aggressive against Nadal as well with 42 trips to the net.
As Fox Sports' Greg Couch points out, Federer had been in a dark place over the past few years, which is why his relentless attacks against Murray and Nadal are such a big deal:
But now Federer has finally faced facts. He's 32 years old. He has lost a step. And the sport, thanks mostly to modern equipment he has refused to use, has moved past him. Add all of that up, and despite his incredible talents he was on the verge of becoming irrelevant.
Federer has finally -- finally! -- realized what's happening. And he finally -- FINALLY! -- has committed to using a new racket. Not only that, but also he has committed to an attacking style that can take advantage of what that new, bigger racket can do.
Now, Federer is about fully recovered from his back injury, has a new coach in six-time Grand Slam champion Stefan Edberg and uses a more modern racket. Add all of those factors up, and he is far from done as one of the sport's major players.
It also explains why, in the face of the loss, Federer believes he has yet to play his best this season:
Now a savvy veteran, Federer understands what the loss means—both in a positive and negative light. Luckily for him, the former far outweighs the latter.
Federer has effectively extended his career as his body and mind have caught up to modern tennis. The only issue for him moving forward is his ability to overcome Nadal in a major, which he has not done since a five-set thriller back at the 2007 Wimbledon Final.
The narrative that Federer and Nadal are still competitive rivals is a chapter way in the past, but the Swiss star still has plenty of ink to etch out more history with a long season in front of him.