Roger Federer is back in the Top Five. More importantly, he's back in the picture.
He returns to the Sony Open in Miami this week after skipping the tournament last year.
After a dismal 2013, perhaps the most frustrating of his career, Federer is back to enjoying life on tour. He fought his way through a funk, has reclaimed his form and found fun again.
Federer seems happier. The relaxed smile is broader. He's more playful. Although relatively new to Twitter, Federer has gone on a selfie binge, tweeting them post-match and during interviews.
That, of course, is in stark contrast to the somber Federer who struggled in 2013. Last year Federer appeared to be on an endless descent into obscurity. Retirement talk surfaced and words like sad, frustrating and disappointing were used to describe his play.
He is nowhere near the dominating champion he once was. However, Federer is back in the mix. He's relevant in the late rounds. He's having fun.
Getting back to fun wasn't easy. Although talk of retirement surfaced among commentators and critics, Federer understood that he was fighting a phase. He knew he had to work through his doubts.
In an interview with Beth Harris of the Associated Press that appeared in the National Post, Federer spoke about the process of working through the slump: "I had some doubts at certain times. But, overall, I knew that it can’t be that I will feel this way forever, so it was just important to stay patient and wait. That’s the most difficult thing to do. I haven’t had it very often in my career. That’s why it was somewhat new for me."
Federer rose above the retirement rhetoric by reconnecting with what he called the "fun factor," per Paul Newman of The Independent: "The fun factor now is much greater than it has ever been. I can pick and choose. I am not in this stress like I used to be.”
It's apparent. You could see the frustration and bewilderment on Federer's face last year. Struggling to find his rhythm, Federer suffered one head-scratching loss after another.
He enters Miami 19-3, his best start since 2012, the last year he won a Grand Slam. He's playing with regained confidence. He's also working with a new coach, Stefan Edberg, and a new Wilson tennis racket.
He's feeling healthier. Last year, a lingering back problem hampered his play. Federer spoke with Prajwal Hegde of the Times of India about his back and how it derailed his plans last year: "The original plan was to take off for seven weeks, off which I was going to train for five weeks, but because of the injury I could only train for two weeks. So instead of coming out of the blocks strong and fit as a fiddle, I came out like, you know, halfway."
This year he is back. All the way back, and having fun.
During a press conference at the Sony Open, a reporter asked Federer about the aging process and its eventual triumph over his game. Federer acknowledged that his body would decline someday. But that day, he said, via the Miami Herald, would come years later.
“Clearly, if you’re playing tennis at 50 years old, sure it’s a different story. But nobody wants to play till 50. You want to go play doubles with your friends and not be ridiculous on center court."
Federer ridiculous on the court? Never. However, a little silly off the court? These days, absolutely.