NEW YORK Riding in a car a few days before the start of the 2010 U.S. Open, Roger Federer was discussing the state of his game during a telephone interview when he suddenly interjected a warning.
Just so you know, Im going through the Midtown Tunnel here, so if we get cut off, Ill call you back, OK?
Federers remark illustrated two traits: The guy is exceedingly polite, and he knows his way around New York quite well. The latter quality might result from so many extended stays in the Big Apple over the years, sticking around long enough to reach every mens final at Flushing Meadows since 2004.
If there have been questions raised in recent months about where Federers career is headed, there is at least one person who is adamant that its far too soon to write him off.
As high as my confidence has been the last few years, I dont feel like Im any less confident, Federer said.
When the U.S. Open begins Monday, Rafael Nadal will try to complete a career Grand Slam, Andy Murray will seek his first major title and Novak Djokovic his second, and Andy Roddick will aim to end an American drought.
He gets a chance to show that reports of his demise are premature, that he still possesses the on-court qualities that let him lord over tennis for so long: the slick movement, the sublime forehand and the pinpoint serve on display in that popular is-it-real-or-fake? video catching millions of clicks on YouTube.
Rafa, Murray and Djokovic are all looking good, too, so I think its going to be a U.S. Open with multiple favorites, said Federer, who announced Saturday hes hiring Pete Sampras former coach, Paul Annacone. But I guess Im one of the big ones or bigger ones if not the biggest one because of my history here over the last six years, making the final each year.
That run includes five U.S. Open championships, part of his record haul of 16 Grand Slam titles. It also helped Federer accumulate semifinals-or-better showings at a record 23 consecutive major tournaments, a streak that ended with a quarterfinal loss at this years French Open.
Another quarterfinal exit followed a month later at Wimbledon, where Federer has won six titles. While many players would be satisfied or even thrilled to reach the quarterfinals at two Grand Slam tournaments in a row, the world has come to expect so much more from Federer.
Im sure hes highly motivated to kind of get it right after what, for him, are disappointing Grand Slam results and for other people are very good Grand Slam results, said Roddick, whose 2003 U.S. Open victory was the last major title for a U.S. man.
That pair of early-for-him exits by Federer, plus a six-month title drought, plus a brief slip to No. 3 in the rankings for the first time since 2003 (hes now back up to No. 2, behind Nadal), plus his age (he turned 29 on Aug. 8), led some to wonder whether he would ever win another Grand Slam title.
Others simply shrugged.
Hes human, even though he was making results that didnt seem human the last five, six years, said Djokovic, whose only losses at the last three U.S. Opens came against Federer, in the 2007 final and the 2008-09 semifinals. It just proves theres a lot of players now coming up and not being scared anymore to play their best in the important matches.
Federer has heard negative talk before.
In 2008, he went through a stretch of three Grand Slam tournaments without taking a title, losing to Djokovic in the Australian Open semifinals, then Nadal in the French Open and Wimbledon finals. Fans began sending Federer letters of support and even instructional DVDs to help the cause.
How silly did Federer make that all seem?
First, he won that years U.S. Open. Then, in 2009, he captured his first French Open title to complete a career Grand Slam and tie Pete Sampras mark of 14 major titles. And to cap the comeback, he regained his Wimbledon championship for record-breaking No. 15.
You can never count him out. It seems like every time someone says hes having a down year or a bad time in his career, he just comes right back and wins two or three Grand Slams in a row, said Mardy Fish, who lost to Federer in the final of a hard-court tournament in Cincinnati a week ago and is seeded 19th at the U.S. Open. And theres really no reason he cant do that again. Hes the best player to ever play. Hell go down, in my opinion, with at least two or three more Slams.
Federer certainly agrees with that assessment.
I obviously believe I can still win many Slams ... but I dont have a target Im chasing, because I go tournament by tournament, said Federer, who beat Murray in the Australian Open final in January. As long as Im fit and healthy, I know I can win more Slams.
After losing to Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon, Federer said his leg and back had been bothering him since before the tournament. Now, though, he feels well, thanks in part to rest and relaxation during a nearly two-week vacation by the Mediterranean Sea with his wife and 1-year-old twin daughters.
As he put it: No problems; no aches and pains; no issues.