"I still feel my best tennis is only ahead of me right now."
Those were the words of Roger Federer, via ESPN Tennis on Twitter, after a straight-set defeat to Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open semifinals put a disappointing end to an otherwise encouraging tournament.
"Best" is obviously a relative term here. Fed-Ex isn't going to return to his mid-2000s form, which saw him win majors as if everyone else was allergic to large silver plates and other shiny objects, but it's apparent he has put his miserable 2013 season far behind him.
Let's flash back for a moment.
After extending his unbelievable streak of Grand Slam quarterfinal appearances in Australia and at Roland Garros, the Swiss star slowly unraveled. He suffered a shocking second-round defeat at the hands of Sergiy Stakhovsky at Wimbledon, where Fed-Ex has been nearly unstoppable throughout his career.
Then, after losses to Federico Delbonis and Daniel Brands on clay, Federer returned to the hard surface for similarly uninspiring results: a loss to Rafa in Cincy, a fourth-round elimination in straight sets by Tommy Robredo at the U.S. Open and a defeat to Gael Monfils in Shanghai.
Talk of Fed-Ex's potential retirement was increasing, but now that's nothing more than a distant memory.
Before the loss to Nadal, Federer looked tremendous in Oz. En route to the semifinals (five wins), he dropped just one set and was broken only twice. He impressively took care of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Andy Murray, giving him more top-10 victories in 2014 than he had by September of 2013, per Tennis View Magazine's Chris Skelton:
More telling than the numbers, however, is the way Federer achieved his success in Melbourne.
After attempting to slow down Father Time with different rackets and strategies to no avail late last season, Federer teamed up with arguably the best serve-and-volley player of all-time, Stefan Edberg, and it has worked wonders.
"I like to be in command," Federer said, via ESPN.com's Matt Wilansky. "That's what I was able to do now the last couple of weeks. So that's very encouraging."
In his wins over Tsonga and Murray, the 17-time major champion made a living moving forward, coming to the net 107 times for 83 points. The aggressive approach has given the 32-year-old veteran a way to remain at the top of the game.
Such a comprehensive defeat against a heated rival likely left a sour taste in Federer's mouth, but one thing became clear Down Under: Brighter moments are on the horizon for Federer, whose career seemed to be on life support a little more than four months ago.