Roger Federer thanks frontline worker for efforts in pandemic
On paper, everything looked to be set up perfectly for Roger Federer.
With the majority of the sport’s big hitters having already played in the Italian Open in Rome last week, a relatively modest field had gathered in Federer’s native Switzerland for the Geneva Open.
But, despite a relative lack of star power on the entry list, the presence of Federer, who was predictably seeded at No. 1, meant the tournament would form a crucial part in the narrative heading into the French Open, which is due to get underway on May 30.
Seeded first, Federer had a relatively kind draw, and had even been handed a bye to the last 16.
But, in his first outing since his Qatar Open quarter-final exit in March, Federer looked half-a-yard off the pace as he battled gamely against Spanish clay court specialist Pablo Andujar.
The world number 75 wasn’t expected to cause huge issues for Federer, but his sound clay court fundamentals and a solid first-serve percentage meant that he was competitive throughout.
Key decision: Roger Federer may be best served by skipping the French Open to focus on Wimbledon
With Federer starting sluggishly in his first competitive outing in months, it came as little surprise when the more energetic Andujar claimed the first set, 6-4.
Federer upped his game in the second set and levelled the match by taking the set 6-4 as he showed flashes of the brilliance we’ve come to expect from him over the years. But the lack of match sharpness was there for all to see in the third set when, after initially breaking Andujar, he couldn’t close out the match.
Instead, the match slipped away from him alarmingly quickly. He lost his serve immediately, then was broken again as he lost four games in a row to bow out of the tournament 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.
As a warm-up for the high-octane action of the French Open, it was little short of disastrous for Federer, whose hopes of easing into the tournament in Geneva and hitting his stride by the final were ended at the very first hurdle.
Now there must surely be question marks over Federer’s next move.
The Swiss superstar was all set to compete at the French Open but, after bombing out against an unheralded opponent in Geneva, and with just 12 days to go until the start of the tournament, his prospects for success don’t look good.
The famous Roland Garros courts are no place for a player trying to play their way back to fitness.
The baseline rallies are tennis’ equivalent of a heavyweight boxing match, as the players attempt to pass one another with haymaker-like shots. It’s tough, it’s drawn out and it’s just about as gruelling a test as you’ll find anywhere on the tennis calendar.
With Federer looking to get back to full fitness after back-to-back surgeries on his right knee, exposing himself to the punishing clay courts of Roland Garros may not be the smartest move for his tennis year.
And his post-match comments seemed to suggest he might be of a similar opinion.
“My goal is the grass-court season, not Roland Garros,” he said.
“(The) Next weeks will be important to get used to the Tour again.
“Matches are different than training sessions.”
Federer: “My goal is the grass court season, not Roland Garros. Next weeks will be important to get used to the Tour again. Matches are different than training sessions”
— Luigi Gatto (@gigicat7_) May 18, 2021
That suggests there is a strong chance we may not see Federer at Roland Garros, and that would leave the door wide open for the most epic clay-court rivalry of the modern era, with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic both eyeing the French Open title.
Djokovic has been in superb form this year, and is head and shoulders above the field as the current ATP world number one.
But Nadal is the king of clay, and is targeting his 14th French Open title.
If the Spaniard is successful, he’ll pass Federer and stand alone with more Grand Slam singles tournament wins than any other men’s player in history.
Currently, Nadal and Federer are tied on 20 wins apiece, while Djokovic is on 18, and can pull to within one win of his two big rivals.
Even if fully fit, Federer would have had his work cut out to eclipse Djokovic and Nadal on the clay at Roland Garros.
But it’s on the faster courts that the Swiss truly shines, and a decision to sit out the clay-court season may prove to be the best bet for Federer’s season overall.
An eight-time Wimbledon men’s singles champion, Federer’s graceful movement and uncanny anticipation have put him a cut above the rest at SW19 over the years, and playing on the faster grass surface will help reduce the potential issues of a still-recovering right knee. Doing so after taking the early portion of the summer to get himself back to 100 per cent certainly seems to make sense under the current circumstances.
If he does decide to withdraw from the clay court season – including skipping Roland Garros – it may leave tennis fans disappointed in the short term, but it could set things up perfectly for a titanic “Big Three” showdown in London later this summer.
But until then, it’s over to you, Novak and Rafa.