Roger Federer lost in the third round of the Madrid Open, and it was the best victory he could have gotten.
Federer, the defending champion of the event, lost to 14th-seeded Kei Nishikori on the clay courts, 6-4, 1-6, 6-2.
Federer was erratic with his serve, and Nishikori punished him with ground strokes as he cruised in the final set to his first victory over the legend.
It was shocking to see Federer lose like this:
Sure, it would be easy to watch this underwhelming performance and say the 31-year-old is slipping, that he just doesn't have the consistency needed anymore to even count on beating players, like Nishikori, who he should be able to overwhelm.
However, let's not get carried away. This was Federer's first time back on the court since he tweaked his back seven weeks ago at Indian Wells.
This isn't to say that Federer has been stuck in traction this whole time. It sounds like it was a minor setback. Here is Fed, via Madrid-Open.com, on his layoff:
Just been home and practicing hard as I was hoping to. I feel good now. It took me a little time to get over my back issue from Indian Wells. But at the same time, that collided with my vacation anyway. I am entering all the tournaments from here through to the US Open, so it’s going to be a long stretch. You want to be ready for it. I’m very excited, which is a good thing.
Federer hasn't been gearing up his practice to dominate the Madrid Open. I think it would be far more accurate to say that this tournament was part of his practice for the French Open.
Federer was able to use the Madrid Open as an opening act for what is to come in late May at Roland Garros. This was simply an opportunity for Federer to get his tournament legs under him, build up his stamina and ease his body back into the rigors of tournament tennis.
With a stop in Rome coming up, Federer still has another tournament before hitting Paris. This places even less emphasis on Madrid in Federer's return to the courts.
The last thing Federer needed was to get locked into long matches or make a deep run in this tournament and put undo strain on his accomplished body.
At this point in his storied career, Federer is at a disadvantage in the stamina department.
While he has always kept himself in great shape, and he can still go five sets with the best of them, his recovery time is shrinking.
The less wear and tear he has on his body going into the daunting run through the French, the better. I'd say Madrid worked out perfectly for him.