MIAMI • The way Roger Federer is playing tennis, it might seem as if it's 2006 all over again.
That year, at age 24, he won the Australian Open and the first two Masters 1000-level tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami, known as the Sunshine double.
By the end of that season, the Swiss was 92-5 with 12 tournament victories, including three Grand Slam titles.
Fast forward to Sunday, and the 35-year-old defeated his long-time rival Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-4 in the Miami Open final to cap the same early-season trifecta.
Eleven years on, as he played his 11th singles match in 21 days, Federer had to coax his aching body to give all that it had.
He said that he had told his coach, Severin Luthi, before the match that "if I would've just played the Miami finals - no Indian Wells, no Australian Open - we would still be very happy right now".
He said that he reminded himself simply to play without pressure.
"Just do it one more time and go out there and be brave on the big points, you know," he said. "I think I was able to do that."
But Federer's fans will have to wait a while to see him again. He said he would skip much of the approaching European clay-court season and would wait to "get on the clay" until about two weeks before the French Open, which begins on May 22.
There are four big ATP clay events before then - in Monte Carlo, Madrid, Barcelona and Rome.
"That's the plan for now," said Federer, who will move up to No. 4 in the world rankings from No. 6. "Then, yeah, hopefully I'll play the French, but we'll see how all of the build-up is going to go."
After all, he is not 24 any more. "I have to pick my moments where I can peak and stay healthy," he said. "Also, part of the situation was that my knee was really strange on the clay last year, so being away from the clay as much as possible maybe is a good thing."
For Nadal, it was his fourth consecutive loss to Federer, but he still holds the career edge at 23-14. They have now played each other three times in three months, and Federer has won them all.
Nadal, asked to pinpoint areas of Federer's game that have changed since the Swiss returned from a six-month injury layoff, could not be specific. "He's playing good, no? That's all," the Spaniard said. "He's playing good and with high confidence."
While Federer bypasses the clay season, Nadal is looking forward to his favourite part of the schedule. "I think I am close to what I need to be," he said. "I am at a very high level of tennis, and I believe I am ready to win titles."