Roger Federer speaks to the media at the USTA Billie...

Roger Federer speaks to the media at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015. Credit: Steven Ryan

Can it be that Roger Federer hasn't played in the U.S. Open final since 2009?

The last of his five consecutive championships at Flushing Meadows came in 2008, and he lost to Martin del Potro in the 2009 final. And the last of his record 17 Grand Slam titles came at Wimbledon in 2012.

The man is 34 and at an age that usually would indicate he's on the downward arc of a magnificent career.

But wait.

Coming into the 2015 Open, which begins today at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Federer is the second-ranked player in the world and the Open's No. 2 seed. He is coming off his fifth tournament win of the year, an impressive showing on the Cincinnati hard courts, where he beat Andy Murray in the semifinals and Novak Djokovic in the final. Djokovic beat Federer in the Wimbledon final in July.

He's clearly showing that age is just a number, and he's also shown this summer that he's not too old to introduce another element to his game. He selectively has started to rush to the service line on his opponent's second serves, even fielding them with a half volley. Combined with his own serve, which seems better than ever, and his gliding, elegant game, Federer seems poised for another Open run.

"I'm not surprised," Djokovic said. "I was always expecting him to play on that level. Many people were talking about his career coming to an end after that season a few years ago [2013] where he didn't play up to his standard. But he came back stronger and he's playing some of his best tennis. He's fit, he's aggressive. He's using variety in his game."

Federer agrees with that. "My game's been going very well," he said. "I think my backhand has improved, with having a bigger racket head. I think my volleying has been very good and very proactive . . . And I think my serve has been unbelievable lately, so it's clearly very important that keeps working, because it is the base of all things. My game is usually great when I move well, which I did in Cincinnati, so that's very good going into the Open."

As for the new service rush, Federer said, "The return came out as a fun thing that started in practice. I said let me try this in a match because it isn't really easy to practice against other players because you feel like you don't want to make fun of them and you want to do the right things so that he gets a good practice in. We'll see how the tournament goes and against who I will play and what the score line is and what time these serves come around. I would like to use it to play on my terms, to be honest."

Federer always seems to be playing on his terms, which Djokovic described as up-tempo. "He takes time away from his opponent. It's what he does best," he said. "He likes to play fast. At Cincinnati, the conditions were very suitable for him and it was very challenging to play him there. He plays very quick, very fast and comes to the net often, doesn't give you much rhythm."

Federer begged to differ.

"For me, it's not that important to keep the points short," he said. "I hear a lot of talk about this as it is very important for me to do that. I'm very happy to rally as well. It's what I've done for over 10 years. I'm very comfortable doing that. I can play very creative and I think it is very important for me to do that."

Djokovic had something else to say, and this statement didn't draw an argument from Federer. "I still see him,'' Djokovic said, "as one of the best players in the world, undoubtedly."

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