Roger Federer may have suffered the bitter disappointment of another crushing defeat to Rafael Nadal at the business end of a tournament but his good friend Pete Sampras feels that the Swiss still has plenty of positives to take out of this Australian Open fortnight.
Sampras, himself a two-time Australian Open champion, believes that Federer has regained his confidence after impressive wins against Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Federer himself insists that he’s on his way back to his best with the help of a larger racket head frame, an idea he was toying with for much of 2013, in a bid to live with the brute power generated by rivals Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
“I'm not sure Roger needed to panic, like he really needed to change something,” Sampras said. “But he's confident that this racquet is helping him, maybe a little more speed on the serve, maybe a little bit easier with the high backhand.
Once you get to that that confident stage with the racquet and get through tough matches, you're at peace. I think Roger is at peace with his technology and is well on his way.”
Much has been made of the fact that Federer’s now working with Stefan Edberg, a former rival of Sampras early on in his career and the American feels that the duo are well matched.
“Stefan is a great guy, first of all,” Sampras said.
“He knows the game. He's very relaxed. He's not one of those personalities that is so upbeat. He'll be good for Roger. And he knows the game. Roger's obviously a great player, won 17 majors, doing pretty well with his coaches and stuff.
Sometimes you just get to a point where you need to hear a different voice.”
“From my experience, I felt as I hit 30, 31, that the grind of the tour, the travel, the international jetlag, all that just wore on me.
It tired me. It affected my motivation. That's why I've been so impressed with Roger, that he keeps going, he keeps going. Seems like he wants to play for another four or five years. I don't know how he does it. As you get older, it just gets tougher.
It gets tougher to play. It gets tougher to travel. Sometimes it gets a little stale. The fact that he's able to keep it so fresh is impressive.”
With Edberg, Boris Becker, Michael Chang and Ivan Lendl all taking up coaching roles on the tour over the past few years, one might wonder whether we might see Sampras in the player’s box anytime soon but he says that while a couple of players have approached him, he simply can’t face all the relentless travelling again.
And while he admits he misses the adrenaline rush of competing in the majors just a little, it isn’t enough to make him copy Pat Rafter and make an appearance in the doubles at one of the slams.
“I miss the last weekend of a major.
I miss the excitement,” he said. “I don't miss the stress. I don't miss the pressure, the expectations I put on myself. I miss the game, but I don't miss the stress of it. It's a tough sport. I feel like I walked away at the right time.”
Sampras took the time to reminisce on his own Australian Open experiences and he admitted that of the three of the four slams that he won, it was probably his least favourite event.
“It was a tough major for me,” he said.
“The Rebound Ace court they had at that time was tough on my body, tough to serve and volley on, a surface that was tough when it got hot. At times when I played Davis Cup, was No. 1, it was over in December. Three weeks later I had to hop on a plane to come down here.
At times I felt like I was a little flat coming down here. It was just a tough major for me to win. I feel like I struggled a little bit.”
But despite the conditions, in Sampras’ day most players still serve-volleyed at the Australian Open.
These days we’re down to just a few hardy souls and he feels that tennis has suffered a little as a result.
“The game certainly has changed the last 10 years,” he mused. “The serve and volley tennis is a lost art.
No one is really doing it. Everyone is staying back and hitting the crap out of the ball, which is fun to watch. You look at Wimbledon these days. It is one dimensional. It's just the nature of technology, maybe the nature of how everyone is growing up with technology.
They're used to not having to volley, serve and volley. It takes time. It doesn't happen overnight. Seeing Stefan, he was a great serve and volleyer. Boris, Goran Ivanisevic. Now everyone plays the same way; there's just four or five guys that are a lot better than the rest.
Roger has a little more variety, to come in, you know, slice it, chip and charge occasionally, show a little bit of that. For the most part it's just everyone staying back and throwing rocks.”
That will certainly be the case on Sunday as Stanislas Wawrinka looks to try and overcome the odds by slugging his way past Nadal.
He’s never managed it before and having conceded just a single set en route to the final, Nadal will be the overwhelming favourite.
However Wawrinka has made plenty of new fans over the past fortnight, producing some brilliant tennis to stun Novak Djokovic and Tomas Berdych, and he can count Sampras among them.
“He's been knocking on the door for a couple years now,” Sampras said.
“He has had some tough losses over the last couple years. He's figured it out a little bit. He's got more confidence. He's been in this situation a few times. He's stepping through that door. It seems like he's probably more confident, more sure of himself.
You know, you watch him hit the ball, he hits the ball great. It's just a matter of his belief. It seems like he's got that.”