Like everyone who was watching the US Open late on Monday night I was thrilled that I rediscovered Roger! The Roger who has made me dream all these years.
Something really clicked in the Arthur Ashe Stadium, something really strong that could signal the start of Federer's comeback.
After taking in the near perfection that the Swiss master produced against Juan Monaco, I tried to understand why on this day he suddenly found the tennis he's been looking for these last two years (discounting his semi-final win at the French Open against Djokovic).
After three hours of hard fought tennis, Caroline Wozniacki and Svetlana Kuznetsova finished their match, allowing Federer and Monaco to take the court. It was 11.30pm. With this late start and the threat of rain, Federer was unconsciously aware that he had to take command, and fast.
Probably because of this, he displayed the kind of tennis we were used to seeing from him for so many years. We have to look beyond the sheer beauty of this game and acknowledge that all his main strengths returned on Monday night.
I felt his genius was still alive and that it must have just been doubts due to bad results that lead him unconsciously to lose his best tennis over recent months.
Clearly a virtuous circle turned into a vicious one as losing made him hesitate and hesitation led to defeat.
In order for his genius to shine, some conditions have to be there.
They were there for many years because of the feeling of success was running through him. But then for two years that went. As Georges Brassens used to say "Without technique, even genius is a bad habit".
Roger refused to retreat
Against Monaco, Roger stuck to the baseline from start to finish, he never chose to retreat. He was always aggressive in order to keep dictating and stepping into the court as much as possible. When pushed, he attacked back, taking the ball early, never going back. He always went to the ball, narrowing the angles and never waiting for it. With his style of game, his position on the baseline moving forward is crucial because it gives him more angles, options and so better areas to attack on the court. It also helps him to keep his timing and that's when he's at its best. If not, he often loses the initiative and plays poorly, making unforced errors.
He sped up the game
Federer had clear and determined intentions through the whole match. On each shot he looked to speed up the game even when the opponent was playing faster. Federer has always adored these kind of rallies at high speed, when there's no time for hesitating and he's playing on instinct. It's when he's at his inspired best, and it's why he often struggles against players who slow the pace: Nadal or Murray not only stuck him on his backhand, they also use effects to break his pace. What Federer did against Monaco was always try to keep the tempo up.
Roger took care of his serve percentage.
His serve is the key. The Swiss likes to open the court and then take the lead. With this shot, he's creating a lot of options and space. Slicing on the deuce side, kicking on the ad side are the starting points when he needs to step into the court with clear areas to attack. Against Monaco, he gave more effect to the ball so he was able to get first serves in and so start points on the upper hand.
A Tyson start
Roger started the match on such a high, being the boss and putting Monaco completely on the back foot. On the baseline, taking the ball as early as possible, getting into the court on each short ball, aggressive on each strike, he gave his opponent one uppercut after the other. Monaco never got his game back. Federer has to put his stamp on the match in the opening exchanges, making his rival understand how it's going to roll and at what tempo. It reminded me how Mike Tyson started his fights, jumping on his opponent to assault him. It's exactly what the Swiss did to Monaco and if KO existed in tennis, Monaco would have been counted out very early on.
Still one downside
I have been surprised for some months about his position when returning second serves. He gets well inside the baseline, ready to attack and even comes to the net. Yet, most of the time, he's chopping his backhand; a neutralising shot which leaves him in the worst possible area of the court: to the side and inside of the court. It seems to me that he'd be more accurate if he kept his position and moved forward, or if he took some steps back and went for an inside out forehand so he starts the point aggressively.
Conditions for a real comeback
Roger now has in his hands everything it takes to become the great Federer again. Starting the match in inspired fashion, keeping this state of mind so the opponent feels it, and always refusing to retreat, always keeping the tempo up. He also has to keep his first serve percentage around 70 per cent. Of course, he can't play as he did against Monaco in every game but he has to keep points alive on good and bad days. It will help him to get back into a successful routine. If so, I have no doubt he'll return to the shape he was in in 2003 and will win one or several more Grand Slams.