It has been a period of relative surprises in the weeks after the Australian Open and Davis and Fed cup opening ties.
The players that shone in the sunshine down under have had mixed results, with an erratic Maria Sharapova coming through in Qatar whilst the likes of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Justine Henin have all struggled to keep up their usual top level.
None more so that Roger Federer who has yet to even make a dent on the ATP 2008 race after indifferent form in the first slam and some rank displays since then.
It is further proof perhaps that the worlds best player can say farewell to the years of absolute dominance particularly 2004 and 2005 over which he lost just ten matches.
This of course is due in part to his opponents growing wiser to his game and vastly improving their own styles and fitness to something resembling his own level. In the cases of the Nadal’s, Murray’s and Djokovic’s there is also the added bonus of youth.
This aside, the Swiss master has evidently lost his own sense of invincibility.
An illness over the opening months (Federer was diagnosed with a fever inducing virus mononucleosis in January) resulted in a muted Federer; a man never enjoying his tennis and becoming easily and therefore uncharacteristically frustrated over the course of a match. This was most apparent after the shock loss to Murray in Dubai, before the tournament the Swiss proclaimed himself ‘refreshed and relaxed’ at the Laureus Sports Awards in February.
After being comprehensively beaten by the Scot – Murray never faced a break point in his 6-7, 6-3, 6-4 victory – Federer resorted to criticism of the Scots style. However true it may be that Murray simply waits for his opponents mistakes it isn’t very professional and thus very Federer, to make such observations publicly.
Something clearly isn’t right in the Federer mentality despite some recent words of defiance after yet another exhibition match against Pete Sampras: “Honestly, losses like this motivate me more than anything…trying to come back, trying to prove I’m still the one to beat, I just want to prove I can do it all over again”.
Only a fool would bet against Federer doing well at the next big tournaments, but it has been a long time since he has been in the position of having to prove himself as the world’s best.
Elsewhere there has been some welcome returns to form, the most satisfying of which came at the aforementioned Dubai championship with Andy Roddick triumphing after beating the likes of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in a week which saw the American play his best tennis since 2003.
In the women’s game it was former top-ten regular Elena Dementieva who lifted the trophy. The Russian has been on something of a wilderness after injury and a loss of confidence, but after comeback wins against Ana Ivanovic and Francesca Schiavone – who herself enjoyed an excellent win over Justine Henin – Dementieva played herself into blistering form to beat Svetlana Kuznetsova in the final.
Henin, like Federer has had a slow start to 2008, but for unclear reasons, she will be targeting the big two in the coming weeks to stamp her authority on the year.
Thanks to BBC Sport for the Fed pic.