Federer is back, U.S. men falter


MELBOURNE, Australia -- After one of the strangest, but ultimately inspiring men's Grand Slam finals in a while, we have certainly learned more about both Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka and Rafael Nadal than we knew before.

We saw a side of Wawrinka's game, both in his victory over Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals, and particularly in the first set against Nadal in the final, that demonstrated he's worthy of his new No. 3 ranking.

We also discovered more about the guts and perseverance of the No. 1 player in the world. Here are five other things we learned:

1. Stop with the "Fed is dead" stuff

OK, so he can't beat Nadal. He never could and we never thought less of the winner of 17 career Grand Slam titles. The way Roger Federer looked at the Australian Open with the injection of inspiration from new coach Stefan Edberg, more power from his new racket and more energy after getting his past back struggles of last year, there is no reason he can't be back in contention for another major.

Can he beat Rafa at the French? Unlikely. But no reason to count out the King of Wimbledon on the grass courts and who knows after that?

"I feel it's been a good start," Federer said after his straight-set loss to Nadal in the semis here. "I've come from far back. I didn't have surgery like [Andy] Murray had or, like Rafa, the problems had being out for seven months.

"I've played with something that has been going on for a while. This is a step in the right direction, and that's the way I want to go. I have a belief this could be a very good year for me again."

2. The American men? Hmm.

They still don't seem to give us much hope. You have to feel badly for the highest-ranked among them, No. 13 John Isner. He retired from his first-round match here with an injured ankle after skipping the tournament last year with a knee injury. In between, he retired at Wimbledon two games into his second-round match, again because of his knee.

"All the American are working real hard and some had tough draws. … No one is losing to scrubs," Young said. Well, yeah, but that's not much consolation to those of us still waiting for an American to break into the top 10.

3. Maria's boyfriend has a name

Grigor Dimitrov's victory over then world No. 1 Novak Djokovic at the Madrid Masters last spring was his biggest career breakthrough. But now 22, is the guy they call Baby Fed ready to beat the top guys on a semi-regular basis?

At the Australian Open, No. 22 seed Dimitrov certainly had a respectable showing, reaching the quarters where he lost to Nadal in four sets -- one more than he nickname namesake Roger. In fact, though he has never beaten Nadal, Dimitrov has taken a set off of him in each of the four times the two have played, which at this stage has to be encouraging for Dimitrov.

4. Be patient with Djokovic

Yes, we all made a big deal of Stefan Edberg's early influence on Federer's resurgence. But let's be real, Edberg did not teach Federer how to volley the past two weeks or explain what a volley is. The bigger racket and more important, the better fitness level and overall health, has been most responsible for Federer's improved play.

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