Roger Federer arrived at the Rogers Cup under unfamiliar circumstances. It marked his first tournament since Wimbledon, since turning 29, since hiring Paul Annacone as his new coach. This is also the first tournament since November 2003 in which Federer entered as the third seed. But Federer disagreed Monday with the notion of his imminent decline.
"Being ranked No. 3 in the world is something I haven't been in a very long time," he said. "So it gives me motivation to come forward again."
All great athletes, get older. Federer himself acknowledges he is no longer the player who captured 11 of 16 Grand Slam championships from 2004 to 2007. He knows, as well as anyone, that the last player 29 or older to win at a Grand Slam was Andre Agassi, at 32, at the 2003 Australian Open.
Federer has not won a singles title since the Australian Open. And after 23 straight appearances in Grand Slam semifinals, he fell in - gasp - the quarterfinals at the French Open and Wimbledon. For most players, those results in one calendar year of Grand Slam tournaments would constitute progress. But Federer is not most players, never has been.
Practice time has been an issue. The lung infection he had in February kept him off the court, and he struggled through injuries during Wimbledon.
Federer said he did not watch the Wimbledon final while it was happening, instead heading with his family on a luxury cruise through the Mediterranean. When they returned, he brought Annacone on board as another coach. Federer respected the work that Annacone did with Pete Sampras and Tim Henman.
"The goal has always been for me to improve, and I won't just be happy playing the same way for years," he said.
The last time he entered a tournament as the No. 3 seed was in Houston in 2003. He beat Agassi in the final, which boosted him one spot in the rankings, which preceded his long reign at No. 1.
The top seeds here receive a bye into the second round, in which Federer will face the veteran Juan Ignacio Chela. Looming is a potential quarterfinal matchup with Tomas Berdych, who knocked Federer out of Wimbledon. The field here includes 16 of the top 20 ranked players.
Federer insisted he remained unconcerned with numbers - particularly 29 and 3. He said he never noticed he had fallen in the rankings until he glanced at them one day. "It doesn't change my life," he said.
But there is no doubt that his life is changing, be it the first birthday of his twin girls recently, or his tennis struggles of the past seven months. Here, with a new coach in the fold, he will begin another comeback.