Roger and out (of his slump, that is)

As Roger Federer sat slumped in his chair and London’s evening murk closed around him, the changing of the guard in men’s tennis seemed complete – and permanent.

Rafael Nadal’s thrilling victory in an epic Wimbledon final last summer anointed a new king, even though it took a few more weeks for the top two players in the rankings to officially swap positions.

At that point, and in the weeks that followed, predictions of a Federer collapse were plentiful.

A dismal start to the North American hard court season suggested a man who had shed his aura of invincibility. Even after triumphing at the U.S Open, severe doubts were raised about whether the Swiss master could keep pace with Nadal in 2009, and see off the challenge of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

Those thoughts have been emphatically swept away over the last 11 days and Federer’s 6-2 7-5 7-5 canter past Andy Roddick on Thursday set him up for yet another Grand Slam final.

It will be his 18th appearance in the title game of a major and a victory on Sunday would pull him level with Pete Sampras, who holds the current record of 14 career Slams.

History flows from Federer’s racket and the story is far from over. He is still only 27 and as the performances in his last two matches have proven, has much left within him.

Many point to the revitalization of Federer as being down to his recovery from mononucleosis, which plagued him throughout 2008. That argument has some merit but there is no doubt that losing the number one ranking was a powerful spur which has added intensity and motivation to his mentality heading into the new season.

Federer is a man who does not like being made to feel second best and consider this: he has not lost a match at a Slam since Nadal usurped him in the rankings.

In some ways there has been more simplicity about Federer recently, highlighted by some scaling back of his public commitments and a clearer focus on purely tennis matters.

Nadal though, does not appear fazed by the challenge, meaning this year could develop into something epic as both Federer and the young Spaniard seek tangible evidence of their growing greatness.

Wimbledon seems like a long time ago.

For Federer, what looked like the beginning of the end was actually the catalyst for the second coming of his remarkable career.

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