Roger Federer withdrew from the upcoming French Open on Monday, a healthy scratch designed to maximize the all-time Grand Slam champion’s chances on his favored two surfaces – grass and hard court – this summer. The current world No. 5 made the announcement via a letter released on his official website:
Regrettably, I’ve decided not to participate in the French Open. I’ve been working really hard, both on and off the court, during the last month but in order to try and play on the ATP World Tour for many years to come, I feel it’s best to skip the clay court season this year and prepare for the grass and hard court seasons. The start to the year has been magical for me but I need to recognize that scheduling will be the key to my longevity moving forward. Thus, my team and I concluded today that playing just one event on clay was not in the best interest of my tennis and physical preparation for the remainder of the season. I will miss the French fans, who have always been so supportive and I look forward to seeing them at Roland Garros next year.
It’s not altogether surprising Federer made this decision, especially after he announced in April that he’d be skipping the European clay-court season to rest his 35-year-old body. (“I’m not 24 anymore,” Federer said.) And after he was recently photographed in Dubai practicing on hard courts instead of red clay, the French withdrawal felt like a mere formality.
After a stunning start to 2017 – one that saw him improbably win the Australian Open after a six-month layoff and then cap it off with victories at the two American springtime hard-court events (Indian Wells and Miami) – Federer was No. 1 in the points race and it wasn’t impossible to envision a return to the No. 1 ranking. But he quickly, and clearly, showed that the top ranking was no longer a priority. From here on out, it’s all about the Slams.
Even though Federer initially announced he’d play in Roland Garros without any tournament preparation, it didn’t make much sense. Maybe in his prime he was good enough to go into Paris without any matches under his belt (he’d never done so, for what it’s worth). Now, with his 36th birthday a few months away, it was highly improbable. Clay has always been his worst surface (he’s won the French just once – he’s won all other Slams a minimum of five times), the turnaround time from the French Open to Wimbledon is almost instantaneous and with Rafael Nadal back to his old tricks, there was almost no chance of Federer extending his Grand Slam record in Paris.
The focus is, and should be, on Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, tournaments he’s won seven and five times, respectively. He’s a much better shot to win either of those tournaments than compete in Roland Garros. If he didn’t think he could win – and clearly he didn’t – the only reason to go would be posterity and rankings points. Those aren’t objectives for a late-career Federer – the only thing on the checklist is Grand Slam No. 19.