When Roger Federer returned to the ATP Tour in Doha in March, after a 13-month absence following two knee surgeries, he made one thing clear: his goal was Wimbledon.
At 39, the Swiss are focused on where he has the best chance of glory: the grass at Wimbledon, where short points and unparalleled experience mean that a ninth title is not out of the question.
So when Federer announced on Sunday that he was retiring from Roland Garros – after opening the door to that possibility at his press conference following his third round victory over Dominik Koepfer – it wasn’t much of a surprise.
“After two knee surgeries and over a year of rehabilitation, it’s important that I listen to my body and make sure that I don’t push myself too fast on the road to recovery,” Federer said in a commentary. communicated. “I am delighted to have had 3 games under my belt. There is no better feeling than being back on the pitch.”
For Roland Garros, the withdrawal of Federer is an undeniable blow. The 20-time Grand Slam champion is the ultimate draw, the man everyone wants to see.
But because of his age, Federer must be selfish at this point in his career. If he wants to have a chance at Wimbledon, he has to be 100%. No man over 35 has won Wimbledon – Federer was 35 when he became his oldest champion in 2017, so the enormity of his task is evident.
After two arthroscopic right knee surgeries, what Federer wanted from Roland Garros was matches, the chance to hone his competitive skills against some of the best players in the world at the highest level.
And he got it, with victories over Denis Istomin, Marin Cilic and finally Koepfer on Saturday night, proving himself that his skills were still there.
His endurance was too. His three-hour, 35-minute, four-set victory over the German was a testament to Federer’s underlying fitness and desire. Three best-of-five games have put miles in his path and have meant that when he hits the grass, where the points should be shorter, he will have what it takes to go far.
Andy Murray, who knows a thing or two about recovering from a serious injury, congratulated Federer in a tweet on Sunday.
I would say it is quite risky to play multiple 4 hour games in a row in your 2nd tournaments in 18 months, so for me it makes sense to be responsive depending on how your body feels, how long matches, etc. Sensible decision on his part
– Andy Murray (@andy_murray) June 6, 2021
“I would say it is quite risky to play several four-hour games in a row in your [third tournament] in 18 months, so for me it makes sense to be responsive depending on how your body feels, how long your matches are etc. “, he said.” Sense decision on his part. “
Some have suggested that the withdrawal of Federer, who sends Italy’s Matteo Berrettini to the quarter-finals, is disrespectful to Roland Garros, claiming he is effectively treating the Grand Slam event as a warm-up for the Noventi Open and, by extension, Wimbledon.
He could have chosen not to play at Roland Garros at all and to train on grass, but he would not have gotten the match training he so badly needed.
Certainly, Federer has earned the right to make decisions based solely on his own future. Recovering from the efforts of his third round victory to face world number 9 Berrettini would have been extremely difficult, and perhaps he would have risked injury. This may be his last Roland Garros, and he wanted to go out on a high note.
Considering his age and health, Federer cannot afford to take any risks. An injury could spell the end of his career, and as Daniil Medvedev said on Sunday, it’s clear where his eyes are.
“Of course we all know a Grand Slam is always a goal for him,” said the Russian. “I think Wimbledon is still, even when he turns 50, a big chance for him. He wants to do his best to prepare. Here, after such a game, it would be difficult for him to play the best guys.”
Even though he suspected he wouldn’t play, Federer probably didn’t know how he would feel when he woke up the next morning. Pain would have told him what to do, and he made the decision accordingly.
The decision of Roland Garros, to move back a week in order to welcome as many fans as possible, also played its part. With a week of the turf season erased, going straight from clay to grass in Halle, Germany without any recovery period or time to train would have risked injury again.
After beating Koepfer, Federer hinted that he may have even surprised himself with his performances in Paris, having only played three games in 2021.
“I didn’t expect to be able to win three games here… and kind of support a good performance from Cilic as well,” he said.
Part of Federer’s success over the past decade has been managing his schedule, plotting his way around the tour in the best way to produce success.
In this case, that means more Roland Garros. And if this turns out to be his last, he will walk away with the memory of his victory over Koepfer, a great victory in itself, but a stepping stone to where he wants to be.
If he somehow triumphs at Wimbledon next month, his decision will be seen as a masterstroke.