Roger Federer looks more relaxed and humble in 2014.
Roger Federer has long been followed by signs reading, "Shh...genius at work." He may want to start replacing those signs with ones simply stating, "Shh..."
For Federer, getting out of his own way may be the step he needs to make something of this year.
A disappointing 2013 season saw the Swiss star look uncertain. He still sought to be the same old champion throughout the campaign, relying on his own methods to make up for each failed week. Nothing worked, and he continued foundering.
And he still insisted nothing was really wrong.
Although the tried-and-true strategy is the prerogative of a 17-time Grand Slam champion, it clearly wasn't cutting it anymore. He had to be open to change. For Federer, that meant a renaissance of sorts.
Here are five ways in which his reinvention will help him find success in 2014.
Roger Federer has only been one of many on tour in 2013.
As of February 3, 2014, Federer is ranked No, 8 in the world. According to ESPN.co.uk, this is the lowest he has been ranked since before winning his first major, at Wimbledon in 2003.
Further, he is a staggering 9,975 points behind No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the Emirates ATP Rankings.
For those keeping score, a Grand Slam victory is worth 2,000 points. So if Federer won the next five majors and Nadal didn't play...and Novak Djokovic didn't either, and well, one gets the picture pretty quickly, here.
But rank, or lack of rank, has its benefits.
No longer does Federer have the pressure of answering the questions surrounding his fall from No. 1 or no longer being in the top three, for example.
Now that he is removed from the top, those challenges have abated, and he can focus on his tennis. Moreover, he can play without the added focus of defending a lot of points at each tournament. He can concentrate on results more or less in a vacuum.
Look for his press conferences to spend more time on strategy and results, and less time on ranking points. This will help Federer to focus on the court and advance his cause in 2014.
Roger Federer's racket was in focus at the 2013 Australian Open.
Federer has a new racket this year.
Integral to this statement is the fact that he "has" a new racket; he is no longer experimenting with, or trying out, a new stick. In other words, Federer is abandoning his own stubborn attitude regarding the need for change in this area.
Part of the 2013 debacle was his on-again, off-again equipment changes.
CNN.com reports that the new frame is 98 square inches, which dwarfs his previous rackets. Analysts have been quick to attribute this year's Australian Open semifinal run to the switch. Tony Manfred of Business Insider went so far as to say that as a result, Federer is now making a "comeback."
Greg Couch of Fox Sports echoed that opinion, claiming that Federer has now escaped becoming irrelevant through his reliance upon archaic equipment.
More important are the indications that Federer is now committed to the change, rather than just trying something out. It shows that he has now gotten over himself and is reaching out to what may help him, something outside of himself and his self-proclaimed comfort zone.
If Federer is still playing this frame come Wimbledon, expect good things to happen.
Roger Federer looks to Stefan Edberg for guidance in 2014.
There is a bigger name than Federer in the Swiss player's camp this year: Stefan Edberg.
This may be the most important display of the star's readiness to accept that he needs help if he wants to move back into contention for No. 1 again. Consider what Federer had to say about his new coach. As reported by Sarah Crompton of The Telegraph, he stated, "I’m really looking forward to spending time with, and learning from, him."
That is some humble pie.
Does this automatically mean that Federer will do anything Edberg wants, and that a shift in strategy will yield wins? Even if it doesn't translate immediately, it is fair to say that the partnership should result in more than he got from Paul Annacone, his previous coach. Even Ricky Dimon of The Grandstand, via SI.com, described that relationship as only moderately successful.
Granted, in that same discussion Dimon would go on to say that Federer shouldn't hire a new full-time coach, and that he probably wouldn't, to boot.
Dimon was wrong, fortunately for Federer.
Many in the blogging world regard the move as a "masterstroke," as did Andrew Castle of Metro.co.uk. If Federer finds his way into a semifinal or beyond at the upcoming French Open, or especially if he manages a title before that, the bandwagon will grow. And with good reason.
The Swiss Davis Cup team will enjoy Roger Federer's company this year.
Federer has jumped on board with Switzerland's Davis Cup hopes this year. That is a big change from last year, when the now-No. 2 Swiss player disappeared from the international competition.
This bodes well.
At the very least, it should assist in building his legacy when all is said and done. Chris Chase of USA Today makes the point that even though Federer probably wouldn't be needed against the depleted Serbian team in the first-round tie, it shows that he will most likely be on the team for the duration this year.
Again, this shows a commitment by Federer to something outside of himself. This humility and attention to others' agendas indicates a renewed focus on the overall process of his 2014 campaign. It smacks of someone who is no longer panicking.
Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated almost inadvertently pointed out in a recent article why it is so important and telling that Federer has made himself available to Switzerland. Wertheim pondered why players would even care about the competition, when so many countries' stars decline to play.
That's why it is vital that Federer is playing.
He is showing that he doesn't have to chase every "real" tournament opportunity. He can enjoy the competition elsewhere while he continues to progress and focus on his game.
Stanislas Wawrinka may not believe yet, but he is the Swiss No. 1
Haresh Ramchandani of Firstpost.com made an interesting observation recently, writing about the Swiss Davis Cup team:
With [Stanislas] Wawrinka turning into a world-beater, the Swiss will need to rely heavily on their no. 1 player if they are to win their first ever Davis Cup. And [Roger] Federer would do good to play the supporting role while Wawrinka leads from the front. It’s just a pity that when Wawrinka was playing his supporting role to the hilt, Federer was nowhere around to lead from the front.
In other words, Federer's history of only playing just enough for Switzerland to say he was there was a shame, and it let down his country. He had the chance to lead his team to success, but he didn't. How much easier would it be to hide, now that he is no longer the top player on the squad?
That's not what Federer chose, though.
He will indeed play the supporting role when it comes to Switzerland's upcoming match with Kazakhstan. This is a great piece of circumstantial evidence when it comes to evaluating Federer's chances for a rebound season.
If he does support Switzerland's efforts as it progresses, it is likely that his own chances on the ATP tour will progress, as well.