MELBOURNE: Roger Federer dismissed suggestions he was slipping off the pace at the top of men's tennis after his five-set loss to Andy Murray in the Australian Open semi-finals on Friday.
Federer, at 31 the senior member of the 'Big Four', went down in a four-hour duel with third seed Murray as he suffered his third straight semi-final defeat in Melbourne.
But the world number two, who holds a record 17 Grand Slam titles, insisted “nothing has changed” in his match-ups against his younger rivals Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Murray.
“Well, nothing has changed. I've played these guys, what, 60 times, the three guys around me in the rankings,” Federer said.
“So we know each other really well. We play each other very close very often. Keep on trading wins and losses.”
Federer said Djokovic, bidding for his fourth Australian title against Murray in Sunday's final, has taken a step forward but he said he was excited about his prospects for the year ahead.
“Novak has done probably the best job getting more wins than losses. That's why he's ranked where he is,” he said.
“I enjoy the matches with Rafa (Nadal), Novak and also Andy again tonight. It's nice playing five sets against him. It was tough tennis. I enjoy that.
“So I go from here with a good feeling for the year. I didn't play a tournament leading in, so now obviously I know where my level is at.
“I also know that I have even more time to work on my game, work on my fitness this year. It's something I'm excited about.”
Federer acknowledged he was always chasing in Friday's semi-final against Murray, but he said he had his chances.
“Obviously, I was down in the score basically from the start. Definitely it was more of a chase. I was able to level it a couple of times,” he said.
“It was a tough match. I had my chances. Obviously you're going to go through a five setter with some regrets.
“But overall I think Andy was a bit better than I was tonight. I had to find my range a little bit early on and then adjust my game style as well, the way I was playing.
“So he did a good job of getting me there. I was hoping to do a bit better, but overall I'm pretty pleased with the tournament. I played good tennis. I'm moving well and was fit in the 10 sets I played in the last two matches.
“I'm upbeat about the tournament, but it's disappointing, going out in five. You know, it's not the first time it's happened here.”
Federer has now lost in five sets five times at the Australian Open, including the 2009 final when defeat to Nadal left him in tears.