Roger Federer blew a two-set lead to Gilles Simon on Wednesday night at the Australian Open and had to go the distance to hold off the Frenchman. What does this mean for Federer's quest to win a fifth Australian Open? Busted Racquet weighs all the evidence:
Struggling with Simon doesn't mean anything
-- Gilles Simon is no slouch. He was coming off a win in Sydney and is ranked No. 34 in the world, a few spots out of the seedings. As recently as 14 months ago he was in the top 10. Lifetime, the Frenchman is 2-0 against Federer. This was always going to be a tough match for Federer.
-- Federer rarely plays such talent in the early rounds. It's only the second time in the past decade that he faced a man ranked in the top 35 before the third round. In most of his Grand Slams, Federer's early round opponents have been ranked in the 60s or below.
-- For a five-setter, it wasn't a particularly long match at three hours, 19 minutes. And Federer looked fresh the entire time. Getting used to the court at Rod Laver and testing himself early isn't a bad thing.
-- In the first two sets Federer looked to be in complete control of the match. His struggles appeared to be more of the mental check-out variety than with his game.
This is bad news for Federer
-- In his 16 Grand Slam victories, Federer lost a total of three sets in his 32 first- and second-round matches and never went the distance.
-- Federer blew four match points before finally winning. Failing to capitalize on match points was a problem in the middle of last season, most notably in his semifinal loss to Novak Djokovic at the U.S. Open.
-- At last year's Wimbledon, Federer went five sets in the first round and four sets in the second before eventually falling to Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals. Struggling early has been a harbinger of bad things to come.
Make of this what you will
Maybe it's just me, but even after Federer's invincibility in majors ended with his loss to Nadal in the Aussie Open finals in '09, there was always the sense that he was going to eventually prevail when he struggled in Grand Slam match. Alejandro Falla, Novak Djokovic, Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin Del Potro -- it felt like Federer would eventually win. On Wednesday night, I didn't have that sense. He was vulnerable at the beginning of that final set and he knew it. You could see the self-doubt creep onto his face at the same time Simon began to believe he could win.
It's no secret Federer isn't the player he was in his prime. Even against a fine player like Gilles Simon, he wouldn't have had to go five sets a few years ago. This isn't news. We've known it for two years. Though Fed's improved play since adding coach Paul Annacone made some think he was back to his old dominance, all that really happened is that he was able to fine-tune his game to better fit his current talents. He was never as off as we thought and he wasn't as on as we thought either.
Aura is overrated. Federer's next opponent, Xavier Malise (No. 45) isn't going to think Federer is vulnerable because he went five sets against Simon. He already knew it.