New York: A year ago at this time, Roger Federer was dealing with a bad back. He was experimenting with new rackets. And his nine-year run of reaching at least the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open ended with a fourth-round loss.
Things are different these days for the 33-year-old Federer.
Enjoying a new racket with a larger head, healthy enough to train properly and push forward whenever possible, Federer got back to the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows with a 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 victory over 17th-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain on Tuesday night. (Complete US Open coverage)
"Because of the issues I had last year, I had to be unbelievably careful what I did. We had to cut back on a few things I usually would do, but were scared to do. That was not what I wanted to do," he said about his fitness work. "Sometimes if that's what it is and it means don't run on the treadmill or don't do jumps or whatever it is, well, there's other ways you can train that. I'm happy that basically today I can do whatever and I don't have any more setbacks."
And the benefit of that, Federer explained: "Now I have my confidence back. It's as simple as that."
At the 2013 U.S. Open, Federer lost to Tommy Robredo in the fourth round, part of a stretch in which the 17-time Grand Slam title winner was bounced before the quarters three times in the span of four majors.
At Wimbledon in July, Federer got to his first Grand Slam final in two years, and even though he lost that match to Novak Djokovic, it signaled a real resurgence.
On a windy evening against Bautista Agut, someone he had never faced, Federer moved well and won the point on 35 of 52 trips to the net.
"Coming to net requires a lot of agility and explosivity and all that stuff — and I have it back," said Federer, a five-time champion at Flushing Meadows. "I'm happy I'm feeling good at net, too, because you've got to anticipate some and read some and it's working really well. So I hope I can keep it up."
Federer was broken only once, part of a three-game run for Bautista Agut that took the score from 5-1 to 5-4 in the first set. But Federer had no trouble the second time he tried to serve out that set, which he ended with a pair of aces.
In all, the second-seeded Federer needed less than two hours to improve to 25-1 in night matches at Arthur Ashe Stadium. This was Bautista Agut's first such occasion in the imposing, 23,771-capacity arena.
Federer is 71-9 overall at the U.S. Open, tying Pete Sampras and Bill Tilden for the fifth-most match wins in tournament history behind Jimmy Connors' 98. Federer's .888 winning percentage is second behind the .910 of Tilden, who went 71-7 and won seven championships in the 1920s.
In Thursday's quarterfinals, Federer will play 20th-seeded Gael Monfils of France.
Federer has won seven of their nine past meetings, including at a hard-court tuneup tournament in Mason, Ohio, last month.
"He's one of the most exciting and entertaining players out there," Federer said, "so I think we can get ready for some good points — some good retrieving by him, some attacking by me."