Dubai – Roger Federer's performance in reaching the semi-final of the Australian Open last month is the first step in a mini-revival of tennis' great legend. This week could see the second.
That is the scenario Federer intends pursuing when he returns to the ATP Tour and tries to win back the title at his adopted second home at the Dubai Open.
Victories over Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Melbourne will be followed by a chance to challenge Novak Djokovic, the top-seeded titleholder, here.
Although the formidable Serb is seeking a record fifth Dubai title, Federer has a better record against Djokovic than against Rafael Nadal, the man who halted him last month, and he feels encouraged by his performances in the first Grand Slam of the year.
“I think it has been a very good start to the season for me overall, “ Federer said.
“I have played some really good tennis. I still feel my best tennis is ahead of me right now.
“So I'm looking forward to the coming months, and how they're going to play out, and hopefully by April I feel like I'm going to be a hundred percent again.”
Federer believes his moderate 2013 results were caused partly by fitness problems, triggered by a persistently troublesome back, and that he is in significantly better shape this year.
He also has a new racket, reportedly with a frame of 98 square inches, which means he is no longer experimenting with what is best. On-off equipment changes may also have contributed to some of his 2013 problems.
Most conspicuously he has a new coach.
Some pundits think that his decision to team up with Stefan Edberg, an outstanding volleyer when he was world number one, is a master stroke, especially as this an area of the game which Federer is trying to develop.
“Technically Roger is strong,” says Edberg. “But I also think it would be good if he would vary his game a bit more than he does at the moment.”
This may actually be crucial if he wants to achieve an 18th Grand Slam title, which is more likely to happen than anywhere on the grass of Wimbledon, where volleying can be more effective.
None other than Pete Sampras, who shares the record of seven open era Wimbledon titles with Federer, believes in the Swiss genius' enduring potential at the age of 32.
“I thought his level (in Australia) was quite good,” Sampras said.
“I do see Roger building from that. I think he's going to do well this year. Things need to fall into place and he needs to play well but I do think he can do it (win a Grand Slam), and I think it is what he's playing for.”
The Wimbledon ambition and the need for a next step in Dubai means there should be different tactical emphases.
“This year in the bigger matches I have decided to take it more to my opponents, instead of waiting a bit for mistakes,” Federer emphasises.
That means we may see an increasing the ratio of moves into the forecourt, something which was evidenced in Melbourne and which may developed further here.
Federer may feel he can attempt that from early, given that he has a first round against Benjamin Becker, the world number 93, and could go on to play Radek Stepanek, the world number 47 from the Czech Republic -though his Davis Cup form suggests Stepanek is more dangerous than that.
Then Federer might have a quarter-final with Dmitry Tursunov, the world number 28 from Russia, and a semi-final with Djokovic.
The other semi-final should be between Juan Martin del Potro, the second-seeded former US Open champion from Argentina, and Tomas Berdych, the former Wimbledon finalist from the Czech Republic.
However Berdych may have to beware of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the former Australian Open finalist from France, at the quarter-final stage. – Sapa-AFP