Everyone figured Federer needed help, and everyone figured they knew how to help.
Turns out Federer was just fine. Turns out he still knew how to win a major tournament. He proved that Monday night, easily beating Andy Murray 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 to win a fifth consecutive U.S. Open championship and 13th Grand Slam title overall.
"I felt like I was invincible for a while again," said Federer, the only man in tennis history to win five straight titles at two major events.
He moved within one Grand Slam title of tying Pete Sampras' record of 14.
"I always knew that if I were to get one Slam under my belt, especially the last one, things weren't looking that bad, like everybody was talking about," Federer said. "I didn't feel I was under pressure to prove myself in trying to win here, but this definitely feels very sweet."
Nothing like the bitter taste left by his lopsided loss to nemesis Rafael Nadal in the French Open final. Or by his heartbreakingly narrow loss to Nadal — 9-7 in the fifth set in fading light — in the Wimbledon final, denying Federer a sixth straight title there. Those, plus a semifinal loss at the Australian Open, were among Federer's 12 defeats by August in 2008, more than he had in any entire season from 2004-07. He also arrived in New York with only two titles from minor events, and allowed Nadal to end Federer's record 4 1/2-year reign at No. 1 last month.
"Maybe you can't win everything," said his father, Robert Federer. "After the French Open, you could see many (negative) comments saying, 'Federer is gone,' 'Federer will never win another Grand Slam.' And Federer proved the opposite."
His son heard those comments and thought about them.
"I was aware of it. I mean, I'm a bit disappointed. Sometimes, to a point, a bit annoyed," Federer said, mentioning the letters he received.
"People come out of the closet and think they can start helping me now. It's just a pain," he continued. "For me, this sort of puts them to rest a little bit, and calms down the phones at my parents' (home) a little bit."
Whatever motivation he might have derived from perceived slights, Federer was absolutely superb against Murray, stretching his winning streak at Flushing Meadows to 34 matches.
The sixth-seeded Murray upset Nadal in the semifinals to reach his first Grand Slam final, and entered Monday with a 2-1 record against Federer. But Murray never really had a chance.
"I came up against, in my opinion, the best player ever to play the game," said Murray, who tried to give Britain its first men's major champion in 72 years. "He definitely set the record straight today."
At 21, here's how young Murray is: Back when Federer was winning his first U.S. Open title in 2004, Murray was taking the U.S. Open junior trophy.
Federer, coincidentally, also was 21 when he played his first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon in 2003. Except Federer beat Mark Philippoussis that day and continues to win major championship matches against everyone except a certain Spaniard: Federer is 2-4 against Nadal in Grand Slam finals, 11-0 against anyone else.
Against Murray, he accumulated a 36-16 advantage in winners and won the point on 31 of 44 trips to the net. His volleying might have been helped by his work winning a gold medal in doubles at the Beijing Olympics, a result he also credited with boosting his confidence.
Murray — whose ranking rises to No. 4 — stood about 10 feet behind the baseline to return serves, exactly the way he did against Nadal in their two-day, rain-interrupted semifinal. And Murray displayed flashes of the get-to-every-ball defense he used against Nadal, including one pretty flick of a lob by Federer with his back to the net.
But Federer, who had an extra day to rest because his semifinal wasn't affected by Tropical Storm Hanna, was simply too much for Murray.
Too, well, Federeresque.
"Seeing him play like that made me very, very happy for him," said Federer's part-time coach, Jose Higueras, "because he's a great champion and he's gone through some rough times."
Only once did Murray throw a scare into Federer, taking 11 of 12 points to go from 2-0 down in the second set to 2-all and love-40 on Federer's serve.
On the second break chance, a 14-stroke rally ended with Murray missing a backhand. TV replays, however, showed one of Federer's shots should have been called out — had it been, Murray would have led 3-2.
"Not necessarily would have won the match or anything," Murray said, "but it would have given me a bit of confidence."
But there was no call there, and no reprieve, because Federer stayed steady and held serve.
"After that," Federer said, "I began to play freely, the way I usually do."
In the next game, Murray began clutching at his right knee and looking up at his substantial support group in the stands, a gathering that included his mother, two coaches and two trainers. Murray, though, said the knee had no bearing on the outcome.
This is what made the difference: "He made very few mistakes," Murray said.
Federer closed the second set by extending a 10-stroke point with terrific court coverage, and then — shifting from defense to offense in a blink — delivering a forehand passing shot. Federer turned to his guest box — which included his pal, Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour — and bellowed, punching down with his right fist.
This is how he is supposed to play.
This is how these Grand Slam finals are supposed to go.
When Federer broke serve for the seventh time, ending the match, he rolled around with glee on the blue court. Instead of heading into the offseason wondering what went wrong, the 27-year-old Federer can look ahead with optimism.
When the men met at the net, Murray felt compelled to share a thought with Federer.
"I told him that he had, you know, a phenomenal year," Murray said, "regardless of what anyone said."