Roger Federer returns to Grand Slam tennis today on perhaps his least favourite surface and fans must be realistic about what to expect from the 20-time Grand Slam champion at Roland Garros in 2021.
Four hundred and eighty six – the exact number of days since Roger Federer set foot on a court to play Grand Slam tennis. His last Grand Slam outing was the Australian Open in 2020 where he was humbled by Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals after his five-set win in the quarter-finals.
A month later, he went on to have surgery on his knee which would have kept him out of tennis for around five months, with Roger eyeing a Wimbledon return in 2020. The pandemic made sure Wimbledon did not take place with Federer’s physical complication preventing him from returning to the sport, it actually bought him some time. Roger had to undergo another surgery on the same knee, which forced him to spend another six months on the side-lines.
Having played little to no tennis in the past year, the 20-time Grand Slam winner made his much anticipated comeback at the Qatar Open in March 2021, but it was a tournament to forget for the Swiss, with a shock defeat in the quarter-finals at the hands of the World #42 at the time, Nikoloz Basilashvili. Federer then decided to skip the Dubai Open in order to practice for the upcoming clay court tournaments. He returned at the Geneva Open in May as the top seed, but struggled to get going again. He was knocked out in the opening match of the tournament by Pablo Andújar, the same man that just knocked out French Open finalist, Dominic Thiem. The world number 75 beat Federer 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 handing the Swiss maestro his first loss in Switzerland since 2013. After this loss to Andújar, he went on to admit that it is highly likely he may not win Roland Garros 2021. He stated his age and injury woes as reasons for this acceptance.
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Roland Garros, is probably Federer’s least favourite Grand Slam, winning just one title here, mostly thanks to Rafael Nadal’s sheer dominance on this surface. Federer’s last stint in Paris was ended by the Spaniard in a straight sets defeat in the semi-finals. The 39year old has failed to advance to the quarter finals of the French Open just once in the last twelve years and also has the third most number of wins at this slam with a win percentage of 75.9 on clay and 11 titles on this surface – not poor numbers by any stretch of the imagination. Amidst all of these numbers, there lies a painful reality for Roger, that this French Open could be his toughest yet. His comeback so far has been one to forget, winning just one match this year. He also isn’t getting any younger and having just recovered from two arthroscopic knee surgeries, it’s a question of whether his body be able to deal with the gruelling level of tennis he is going to have to play on this surface. Irrespective of his form or troubles, he is Roger Federer, and it would be foolish to write off one of the greatest tennis players of all time. He may not be one of the favourites for the Roland Garros 2021 title, but it would not surprise anyone if he went deep and actually proved to be a real thorn in the sides of Djokovic, Nadal or Medvedev.
Nearly two weeks after the nightmare at the Geneva Open, Roger Federer kicks off his first French Open in 2 years. He takes on Denis Istomin who is currently ranked 204 in the world. Federer has faced the Uzbek seven times and has come out on top each time. There is no doubt that the Swiss is favourite to go through, but it will not be entirely straightforward for him as his recent form and lack of match fitness could be holding him back from being at his fluid best.
The draw for the French Open has not done Federer any favours either. The top half of the draw houses the ‘Big 3’ of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic all in the same half of a Grand Slam draw. What this means for the Swiss, is that even if he somehow gets over all the hurdles and manages to book a quarter-final spot, he will face Djokovic, that’s if the Serb wins all of his matches, which he should. If Federer manages to dig deep and get past Novak, he will have none other than the King of Clay awaiting him in the last four. Getting to the final four at Roland Garros is already considered as one of the greatest feats in tennis, and with Federer’s current situation involving his form, fitness and the draw, it would take nothing less than a miracle for him to do so.
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In a post-match interview leading up to the French Open, Roger said, “I’m just realistic that I know I will not win the French and whoever thought I would or could win it is wrong.”
After the French Open, comes the grass season, and what Rafael Nadal is to clay, Roger Federer is to grass and to be objective, the Swiss maestro could just be looking at the Roland Garros as a stepping stone towards Wimbledon. The 8-time Wimbledon Champion will be looking to make it nine this year, and with it being only four weeks away and Rafa Nadal potentially winning his 21st Grand Slam by then, Federer would certainly want to get back to his best and ooze class on grass, as only Roger can.
[Image Credit: Roger Federer]