At the Net: Should Federer be optimistic about 2014?

Philadelphia, PA ( - The great Roger Federer recently said that he expects a lot out of himself in 2014.

Should he?

The 17-time Grand Slam king has had his worst season since becoming a major champion in 2003, but he still expects to compete for Slam titles next year.

"I'm really looking forward to 2014 already, but I feel like I also need the end of this year to prepare for '14 because it has been a bit of a rocky patch the last couple of months," Federer said. "But my expectations will always remain very high. That will never change.

"As long as I'm physically and mentally fine, there's no reason for me not to be taking part in the big matches. That's what I'm looking forward to in 2014, to be part of those matches.

"I still feel I'm heading in the right direction."

Are such expectations realistic at this point? The numbers would suggest they are not.

The facts are that the once-mighty Fed has captured only one Grand Slam title in his last 15 majors, as he managed to sneak out a seventh Wimbledon championship last year.

Since then, however, the Swiss legend has reached only one semifinal over his last five majors, including stunning losses before the quarterfinals at this year's Wimbledon and U.S. Open events. When Federer lost in the second round at Wimbledon this summer, it marked the first time that he failed to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal since the 2004 French Open. He did it again at the U.S. Open last month, falling in the fourth round against fellow over-30- something, Tommy Robredo.

Federer failed to reach a Grand Slam final for the first time since 2002 this year and it's not even a certainty that he'll qualify for the prestigious season-ending ATP World Tour Finals in London next month.

"I'm running [behind] with practice, because of the issues I've had this year," he said. "I really believe the extra week of practice, spending at least three hours on the tennis court everyday for seven straight days, is very important for me right now. So clearly that makes me a bit more vulnerable in the early rounds.

"I can still finish strong. I believe that. There's not much time left. But if I do qualify for London, that gives me an extra shot there. I usually play well indoors. So I hope this year's going to be one of those years again."

The 32-year-old Basel native is now on the outside looking in. The former frontman of the so-called "Big Four" (Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray) is now like everybody else ... wishing they were a member of the "Big Three" (Nadal, Djokovic and Murray).

Just this week, Federer bowed out against a player outside the top 20 for the fifth time in six tournaments. Oft-injured one-time world No. 7 Gael Monfils got him at the Masters event in Shanghai to add to a succession of head- shaking losses that started with a second-round shocker at the hands of Sergiy Stakhovsky at the All England Club back in June.

Federer is like the rest of us, in that he's not getting any younger. The undisputed top-three players in the game right now are at least five years his junior and there are plenty of other guys on the way. i.e. Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic, Jerzy Janowicz, etc.

It would appear as though Federer is no longer able to contend with the French and U.S. Open champion Nadal, the Aussie Open titlist Djokovic, or the reigning Wimbledon champ Murray.

I see him struggling mightily against his biggest rivals next season. He's 0-3 against Nadal; went 0-1 v. Murray; and, surprisingly, has not faced Djokovic yet in 2013.

Sadly, the former long-time world No. 1 has dropped down to No. 7 in the world and is now being challenged by Wawrinka for even his Swiss supremacy.

Fed's captured only one title on tour over the last 14 months (Halle in June) and has appeared in only two finals this year, with a loss coming at the hands of Nadal at a clay court Masters event in Rome.

This latest campaign has seen Fed slowed by some injuries and has included a couple of racquet changes that didn't seem to make a difference in his results. He's a mortal 6-5 in his last 11 matches, reaching only one semifinal in the process, which resulted in a stunning loss against little-known Argentine Federico Delbonis in Hamburg.

"I'm still losing against good players. The level of play is very good. But what's important is if you do play the right way and you move the right way, then all of a sudden that margin you don't have right now, you get it back.

"It's just important not to like worry too much, to be honest. It's important to keep on doing what I'm doing. Obviously I might get tougher draws as we move along with my ranking not being in the top four anymore. But that's okay... For me it's just important to keep on enjoying what I do."

I wish I could blow some smoke and say that Federer's still got it ... but I can't. The guys on the other side of the net are no longer mesmerized by his mystique.

Federer will take next week off before returning to action at his hometown Basel event in two weeks.