KEY BISCAYNE: The best player in tennis has been awfully average this year.
Roger Federer is off to his worst start since 2000, when he was 18 and still three years from his first Grand Slam title. In three tournaments he has yet to reach a final, and he has lost three of his past six matches.
Not that anyone will be eager to face Federer at the Sony Ericsson Open, which began on Wednesday. He’s a two-time champion and top-seeded, and he’s sure to be highly motivated to jump-start his season.
But for the moment, the debate about whether Federer’s the best player ever has given way to another question: Is his game in decline?
Ill health has been a factor. A stomach virus curtailed his preparation for the Australian Open, and he lost in the semifinals to eventual champion Novak Djokovic.
Last month Federer was diagnosed with mononucleosis, and when he returned three weeks ago, he lost to Andy Murray in the opening round at Dubai.
But even after Federer pronounced himself fit at Indian Wells, his backhand lacked its usual snap, and his lethal forehand was too often wayward. He lost in the semifinals last weekend to No. 98-ranked Mardy Fish.
At 26, still in his prime, Federer thinks all his game needs are a few tweaks.
“I think I have really a lot of potential toward playing more aggressive,” he said. “The rest is sort of trying to maintain good fitness and good defensive skills. My offensive skills will always be very good. I just have to continue improving little things.
“I think it’s about details at this stage of my career. I’m not going to become a different player. I don’t want to.” — AP