ROME • Roger Federer is out of the Italian Open, one of the few titles the Swiss has never won during his 18 years on the Tour, but there are more pressing matters on his mind.
Whether or not the 34-year-old can recover from a straight-sets loss to young Dominic Thiem in the third round yesterday and get his ailing body in shape for the French Open in a fortnight is problematic.
Federer has made ominous sounds of struggle this week as he tries to manage a back injury and the residual effects of a knee operation after the Australian Open.
He almost pulled out of the tournament before his win over another next-generation star, Alexander Zverev, on Wednesday and was not even certain to start in this one. However, he dragged himself to the line and gave it his best shot.
Thiem won 7-6 (7-2), 6-4, his third victory over a top-10 player this year.
This normally would have been the biggest scalp of his young career, but he beat a reduced version of the man who has won 17 Grand Slam titles.
Federer does not surrender easily but there was an air of resignation in some of his more expansive shots, especially in the second set, as if he would win if he could but was not prepared to jeopardise more important events to come.
While he moved well enough, showing no sign of discomfort when stretching, running or occasionally stroking the ball with his old majesty, the sharpness was not quite there.
Federer admitted he was happy to exit the tournament because it will give him more time to consider his options as he tries to regain full fitness ahead of next month's French Open in Paris.
"My body's just not ready... I'm not going to go into specifics, because I'm not in the mood," the 34-year-old said.
"The way I'm playing right now is not going to be good enough for a good run in Paris.
"It really depends now on the next seven to nine days, how I can really play in Paris.
"Should I rest, train, do some more physio ? All that stuff needs to be discussed but I'm so happy I didn't get hurt this week."
In the quarter-finals, Thiem will play Japan's sixth seed Kei Nishikori, who beat French 11th seed Richard Gasquet 6-1, 6-4 yesterday.
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Day 5, Q-finals, StarHub Ch201, 6pm