We ended the ATP Tour season last year with Roger Federer unable to defeat Rafael Nadal at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship. Some called it the two greatest players dueling it out against each other, claiming those were some of the best matches of the Open Era.
Then Federer had a hard time with Novak Djokovic. Some called it a bad tournament, other called it Federer's drop from his 16-time Grand Slam Champion peak.
Last week, World No. 9 Jurgen Melzer dropped Federer 6-4, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of Monte Carlo. We aren't sure what to call it, but Federer has his fair share of reasons. First clay tournament of the year, swirling wind, seven break points squandered and Melzer getting just plain lucky.
"Either he shanks them and they stay in play, or he hits the line. All those things accumulate to something quite frustrating. That's what made it hard," Federer said.
It's a state of mind we never hear from Federer. It's not the strategy ATP fans usually hear from the former World No. 1. Which leaves a question: Is Federer really past his peak? A majority of his Grand Slams, 11 of 16, were won between 2004 and 2007. The 29-year-old's biggest news is when he doesn't lose to a World No. 1 or 2.
Federer is hoping that the schedule change of Madrid being switched with the Rome Masters will make for an easier clay season. The switch makes it an easier altitude change going into Roland Garros. Perhaps the next three weeks and the French Open next month will help us determine where Federer really stands among the top players in the world.