Fit Federer finds the fire
Switzerland's Roger Federer returns a ball to Ukraine's Aleksandr Dolgopolov during their BNP Paribas Open semi-final match at Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 15, 2014 in Indian Wells, California - by Joe Klamar
And the Swiss great, winner of a record 17 Grand Slam titles, is headed back to the top five in the world rankings and pleased to be ahead of where he expected to be in terms of results this year.
Federer, who will be seeking a 22nd ATP Masters crown, made it to the quarter-finals as the defending champion at Indian Wells last year, but even making it to that match against Rafael Nadal was a struggle after he hurt his back in the second round.
That meant his planned weeks of rest and preparation after the first Masters event of the season instead turned into weeks of rehabilitation, and the knock-on effect dogged him for the rest of 2013.
"Mentally I took a hit, I think, just knowing that I never felt in pain for that long like I did after this tournament last year," Federer said after securing his place in Sunday's final with a comprehensive 6-3, 6-1 victory over Alexandr Dolgopolov.
"So it feels good winning again here so many matches. "It's nice winning, anyway -- it just solves a lot of problems."
Federer won the title in Halle in June, but when he hurt his back again he said he realized it was "fragile" and he'd have to take a new approach to training to protect it.
The program has yielded results even sooner than he expected, with a run to the title in Brisbane before a semi-final appearance at the Australian Open, and his first title in nine months in Dubai in February.
"I expected myself to play better starting March-April," Federer said.
"Maybe Miami, clay maybe, that kind of time. "I really feel I am really there where I want to be, or where I wanted to be six months ago."
Dolgopolov said his close-up look at the revitalized Federer, which lasted just 61 minutes, showed a player returning to the form that saw him top the world rankings for a total of 302 weeks over the years.
"It's quite simple," Dolgopolov said. "He's playing more solid, playing more like he did before, moving well, pretty confident, good on defense, good on offense -- good all over the court.
"That's what brings you results."