Former world No 1 and two-time US Open singles champion Pat Rafter has revealed that Roger Federer was a " bit soft" when he started his career, which enabled the Australian to beat him thrice in their three meetings. However, he felt that things were changing when they met for the last time at Halle in 2001, a week before Wimbledon.

The Swiss ace went on to dominate the courts for more than a decade since, winning 20 Grand Slam titles, including three of the last five Slams, following his return from injury in 2017. The run included eight titles along with two Australian Opens and Wimbledon, making him the second ranked player in the world, only 155 points behind Rafael Nadal.

Federer will have an opportunity to close the gap on Nadal should he participate in the Dubai Open, a decision which will be made in the near future, according to the tournament director. However, much will depend on Nadal's performance in the Mexico Open, which gets underway on 26 February. The Spaniard has confirmed that he will make a return then.

Rafter had the number on Federer early on in his career, having met him thrice, in the French Open in 1999, ATP Masters Miami in 2001 and again Halle in the same year, beating him on each occasion. Rafter believes that Federer's terrible record against him was down to the fact that he sometimes showed him too much respect, which changed after he started believing in himself.

"I think there were times early on when he showed me too much respect," Rafter said, as quoted by the Express. "He was there in matches but kind of went away because he was too respectful.

"He was almost a bit soft. You could sense that change once he started to believe in himself. The last time when played (at 2001 Halle) a week before Wimbledon, you could tell things were changing."

The Australian also pointed out that Federer is exactly the man people see and love on court in real life as well.

"No, what you see in public is how he is. There are people in this universe who are just born a certain way and they behave a certain way. Good and bad. Roger's a great bloke. I just wish I had something on him.," he added.