Roger Federer's Struggles Continue

Kyle NachreinerCorrespondent IApril 27, 2010

ROME - APRIL 27:  Roger Federer of Switzerland wipes his face at a change of ends in his match against Ernests Gulbis of Latvia during day three of the ATP Masters Series - Rome at the Foro Italico Tennis Centre on April 27, 2010 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

At this time last year, Roger Federer was struggling. 

He had smashed his racquet in frustration after early exits at Indian Wells and Miami while many questioned his ability to regain his winning ways and capture a record 15th Grand Slam Title. Federer remarked that he was glad the hard-court season was over, and he was looking forward to the clay-court swing of the tour. 

And indeed he was right in being optimistic.  The clay is what turned his disappointing season around.

Federer went on to beat Rafael Nadal in the Madrid Masters 1000 Final and tied Sampras' record 14 Slams at Roland Garros. 

So, after Federer repeated his ugly hard-court performance of last year with even earlier exits from Indian Wells and Miami in 2010, many people asked the same questions:  Has he lost motivation?  Is he getting too old?  Will he return to his championship form?

On Tuesday, Federer gave the naysayers even more to talk about.  No. 40 in the world Ernests Gulbis of Latvia defeated Federer 2-6, 6-1, 7-5 in the Swiss star's opening round match at the Rome Masters. 

Federer breezed through the opening set but quickly upped the errors and the frustration, as his play slipped to a less-than-stellar level much like his recent struggling form at Indian Wells and Miami.

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The match was Federer's first in nearly a month, and he said he was not worried about the result. 

Nor should he be, yet. 

We have seen this very same script from Federer before.  After dropping out early in the twin hard-court Masters' events at Indian Wells and Miami last year, Federer then fell to fellow countryman Stanislas Wawrinka in the third round at Monte Carlo in his clay-court season debut.

Yes, Federer has indeed struggled as of late.  He seems to have lost a step or two, and his motivation to win every match and give it his all on every point is not at his normal Grand Slam level.  But this has happened before, and I think we will see a renewed vigor in Roger down the second-half stretch of the clay-court season. 

Of course, Federer could finally be losing his winning formula.  But it's too early to start that debate. 

After all, he is 1-0 in the only category that matters to him and the rest of the tour:  Grand Slam titles. 

However, if he wants to achieve the calendar Grand Slam, he will certainly need to turn things around on the dirt, and quickly.

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