After a down year in 2013, Roger Federer is surprising everyone with an outstanding start to 2014. The key at this point is keeping it up.
Through four tournaments, the Swiss star has reached finals three times and took home a title in Dubai. His "worst" showing was a trip to the semifinals at the Australian Open where he lost to Rafael Nadal.
After Federer's loss to Novak Djokovic at Indian Wells, Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times explained how much better the player was performing compared to a year ago:
Federer upbeat in concession speech, says he's playing "great tennis right now." Hard to argue--so much better than last year. #BNPPO14— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) March 16, 2014
The 17-time Grand Slam champion only won a single tournament in 2013 and failed to reach the quarterfinals in two different majors. This is notable since he had reached at least this round in every Grand Slam event since 2004.
He appeared slow and unable to keep up with the younger players on tour physically. However, he has turned that all around this season. Even Novak Djokovic has taken note of the shift:
Djokovic about Federer: " He s back to his normal level, the level that he had for 7, 8 years while he was so dominant in men's tennis."— Musy Isabelle (@Isabellemusy) March 20, 2014
If Federer can keep playing at his current level, there is no doubt he can take home more trophies before the year is out. The problem is that it will not be easy to continue his level of play.
The veteran even admitted that he is not used to this type of consistency, per Beth Harris of the Associated Press (via National Post):
I’m just happy I’m playing consistent tennis and I’m going deep in tournaments and I’m giving myself chances to win,” he said. “I’m playing really good tennis. I’m moving well. Serving well, consistently well. So many things are working.
I’m just surprised that I’m able to keep it up week for week now. I expected myself to have a breakthrough tournament, but then maybe a couple of early exits. Who knows, maybe that’s all upon me, I don’t know. But I got very, very close, so it’s encouraging for Miami and for the rest of the season.
One big thing that is helping him this season is the aggressive approach with a serve and volley. Sandra Harwitt of ESPN.com points out that this adjustment can be credited to new coach Stefan Edberg:
Edberg must be promoting the benefits of the serve-and-volley, as well as the best way to transition from a defensive position to an offensive one. Fed can volley -- and volley well -- but too often spends time hanging back behind the baseline. Why work so hard if you don’t have to? And at age 32, playing catch-up is probably not the best strategy.
This aggressive style has not only been leading to more success with his serve (78 percent on first-serve points this season), but it has also ended rallies quicker. This slight adjustment has allowed him to be fresher late in matches, which is huge at 32 years old.
Despite this willingness to go to the net, Federer is making few mistakes in his matches and forcing his opponent to beat him with great shots. With the veteran's skill and savvy on rallies, this is tough for anyone to do.
Heading into the Miami Masters, Federer has the No. 5 seed and will start his run against Ivo Karlovic. Before too long, he could have matches against Richard Gasquet and David Ferrer.
While he will have to perform to his peak ability to advance in this loaded tournament, consistency is also a huge key. He has to make sure he performs just as well in the first few rounds as he would in the semis and finals.
With his new strategies and continued confidence, this should not be a problem. Fans should expect yet another deep run that could possibly end with his second tournament title of the season.
Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.