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Yes, Federer's game is up to snuff

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- If you're Roger Federer, you have to be tired. You have to be tired of the constant focus on the tennis mortality of being 30 years old, which is to focus indirectly on all that you were instead of all that you are. You have to be tired of the Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal conversation, even though you've done more and won more than anyone else in the history of your sport. You must be tired that for all of the narratives since your last major title, the 2010 Australian Open over Andy Murray, you've appeared in the semifinals or finals of 17 of the past 26 Masters or Grand Slam events in which you've appeared.

More than perhaps anything else, if you're Roger Federer, you must be tired that, because of the culture of instant celebrity and the emphasis on the moment, this moment right now, the conversation about the totality of your career -- past, current and future -- is not nearly as intelligent as you believe it should be.

Federer sounded as exasperated and even immodest ("I really played amazing these last three matches") as he was relieved and joyous in beating John Isner 7-6 (7), 6-3 in the men's final at Indian Wells on Sunday for his 19th Masters 1000 title in front of a record crowd of 16,668, tying him with Nadal for the most all time. Of his 73 career singles titles, nearly half of them -- 19 masters, 16 majors -- have come in the sport's biggest tournaments.

Certainly, there is Nadal and his 10 majors, and the deserved narrative of Djokovic, the greatest tennis player in the world today, and his spectacular star turn moment at Federer's expense: the 15-40, double match point Djokovic saved down 5-3 on that crosscourt return in the U.S. Open semifinals. Djokovic wound up winning that game, never looking back en route to winning his third major of the year.

Both are worthy, but gone was the truth that Federer had appeared in the semifinal or final of three of the four majors, losing only to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Wimbledon quarters by miracle (he had been 178-0 in Grand Slam matches after winning the first two sets) as well as today's current truth that since losing to Djokovic in New York. Federer is now 39-2, having won six of his past eight tournaments. Along the way, he beat Murray in Dubai for the title, handled Nadal soundly here in the Indian Wells semifinals and now has the year's first Masters 1000 title secured (after closing 2011 with a Masters shield in Paris). Now, he gets another shot in Miami, which starts next week.

"I think you should look at the bigger picture sometimes, at what's happened over a three-year period or one-year period and not just a one-month period, because I do have short-term goals. But I also have long-term goals," Federer said. "It depends on where you're coming from and who you've played. Doesn't tell the whole story, you know."

What Federer seeks is perspective, something clearly missing in the sports conversation across both the team and individual games, that there is more to competition than simply winning the championship trophy. His great rival, Nadal, has been vexed by Djokovic, hasn't won a tournament since winning the French Open, but still appeared in three of four Grand Slam finals last year, winning one. Patience and a long view isn't always a strength of the sporting discussion.

The intelligent narrative regarding Federer is that he is still dangerous, hungry and capable, still a threat to win a major tournament, but simply not a favorite. Still, he punishes his lessers -- he has won his past 73 matches versus players outside of the top 20 -- including routine beatdowns of two players, Tsonga and Juan Martin del Potro, who have vanquished him in Grand Slams.

"I think I have proven myself on the surfaces for so many years. I used to win basically every tournament there was out there in North America for a while," Federer said after beating Nadal. "World Tour Finals were in Houston back then with all the great players in '03 and '04. I was able to basically win all of them in a short period of time. So I think that just because you win a few indoor tournaments doesn't mean you can't play on clay or hard courts anymore.

"Sometimes people think so much in the short term," Federer said. "It's a bit unfortunate. But, it's nice that I'm putting together a lot of wins in a row at the moment and just that I have shown also great reaction after the tough loss I had against Djokovic at the U.S. Open, because obviously that hurt."

Federer's game has been dissected from back to front, top to bottom. Nadal always has been a difficult matchup for him. Djokovic is a difficult matchup for everyone. Unless comparing Federer to himself, discussion of decline is simply inaccurate.

"I think it's more the age that people always talk about right now. That's what stands out to me," Federer said. "Some don't understand how you can play tennis at 30, which is shocking to me because normally that's when you're still young enough to play some of your best tennis. I think I'm showing that since I turned 30 in August. That's basically when my run began."

Some of the conversation is legitimate, about whether his legendary arsenal can hold up for five sets against the game's best players when once it was no question. During the week, which produced a record attendance of 370,406, Federer proved once more that his serve is still one of the game's great weapons. He outserved Isner in the final, then Nadal and del Potro, and matched Milos Raonic in the third round. His ability to punish short replies with his forehand was the story of the tournament.

"I think I have been playing extremely well since the French Open, actually, but people aren't giving me enough credit sometimes for how great that tournament was because I didn't win it," Federer said. "The same thing at Wimbledon, where I thought I played really well there, too. I was in a good position to do something extraordinary there. The same thing happened at the U.S. Open."

Moving into Miami next week and into the clay season as the French Open arrives in May, Federer remains where he's always been, still in the middle of the conversation, even if it is not always conducted on his terms.