Roger Federer arrived at last year's U.S. Open with his confidence — and his seeding — sagging.
The five-time U.S. Open champion was bothered by a back injury that prevented him from training as much as he would have liked, and he ended up playing in Queens with his older, 90-square-inch racket frame instead of the 98-inch frame he had tested earlier in the summer.
He entered the Open as the No. 7 seed — his lowest position since 2002 — and was bounced in the fourth round by journeyman Tommy Robredo, a man he had beaten in their 10 previous matches.
"I felt like I had little margin against guys ranked just outside of the top 10 to No. 30 in the world," Federer said of his feelings a year ago. "And then the rest of the field, I felt like I could manage it somehow, but the confidence was going away quickly, too, just because I was just not moving so well. I was scared to have another setback, and so it was just not as clear-cut and simple as it is this year."
What a difference a year makes.
Armed with a new coach (his boyhood idol, the attack-minded Stefan Edberg), a new racket and a healthy back, the 33-year-old father of four enters this year's Open brimming with confidence. The 17-time grand slam winner has won 18 of his last 20 matches, including capturing the titles in Halle, Germany and in the recent hardcourt event in Cincinnati. He reached the finals of Wimbledon — losing to Novak Djokovic — and the finals in Toronto — falling to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
“It’s not just how well he hits it, he seemed to be right there as maybe the greatest mover in the history of hardcourts," four-time Open champ John McEnroe said. "The movement he was displaying at Wimbledon was unreal and he’s sort of continued that, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.”
Federer has also been blessed with a terrific draw.
His arch-rival, defending U.S. Open champion Rafael Nadal, withdrew from the tournament with a wrist injury, allowing Federer to move from the No. 3 spot to the No. 2 seed and avoid a possible semifinal meeting with the Spaniard. Nadal is 23-10 all-time against Federer, and Federer's last four grand slam titles have come with Nadal absent or upset early.
"I'm more disappointed for the fans, his fans, and the tournament, who puts up a great event," Federer said of Nadal. "It's not necessarily dependent of an event like this, on the one player, but it's more exciting with him."
Federer is seeded to meet the Spanish claycourt specialist David Ferrer in the semifinals. Federer is 16-0 all-time against Ferrer.
Djokovic, the No. 1 seed and 2011 Open champ, remains the favorite to win the tournament in McEnroe's eyes.
Yet Djokovic has a tougher draw, with a potential quarterfinal matchup against 2012 champ Andy Murray and a possible semifinal against Australian Open winner Stan Wawrinka.
All of that spells good news for Federer.
"You're back to winning ways again and everything seems so simple," he said. "It's nice feeling that way. I'm looking forward to this tournament, because I really feel like I can play a great tournament. I hope I can show that on the court this year."
Follow Adam Zagoria on Twitter @AdamZagoria for coverage throughout the U.S. Open.