Federer to bypass French

Roger Federer, who won the French Open in 2009 and was runner-up four times, will miss Paris for a second consecutive year.
Roger Federer, who won the French Open in 2009 and was runner-up four times, will miss Paris for a second consecutive year.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

World No. 5 to skip entire clay season to focus on Wimbledon & hard-court events

NEW YORK • Roger Federer, who has been in rare form at age 35, will not play in the French Open, which begins in two weeks.

Instead, he will focus on the grass-court and hard-court events ahead, including Wimbledon and the US Open.

This will be the first year since Federer turned professional in 1998 that he will not play a Tour event on clay.

"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," he said in a statement.

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"The start to the year has been magical for me, but I need to recognise that scheduling will be the key to my longevity moving forward."

Smart and selective scheduling has played a big role in the 18-time Grand Slam champion's enduring excellence, but his performance in 2017 has surpassed even his own expectations.

After a six-month layoff to heal his left knee, he won his first Grand Slam title in nearly five years at the Australian Open in January, beating Rafael Nadal in a five-set final.

Federer then swept to titles at Indian Wells and Miami. He is 19-1 this season, with the only loss having come in the second round in Dubai against the Russian qualifier Evgeny Donskoy.

But after a record 65 consecutive Grand Slam singles tournaments, Federer will have missed three of the last five by skipping the French Open, which begins on May 28, for a second straight year.

The Swiss won the title at Roland Garros in 2009 and reached the final on four other occasions. In his statement, he said he looked forward to seeing the French fans in Paris next year, but at this stage of his career, with little left to prove and plenty of mileage on his balletic frame, there are no certainties.

"I'm very confident that Roger will play the French Open again," Severin Luthi, Federer's long-time coach and close friend, said in a telephone interview from Switzerland.

"He can play a different schedule next year. It's not because he's not playing the French Open this year that he's done with it. It's not because he is not playing on clay this year that he won't be playing on it more again in the years ahead."

Luthi called the decision to withdraw "a very tough one" and said it was settled on Monday after "a few days" of training on red clay in Switzerland.

"We always said we were going to take the decision around the 10th of May," he said. "We just wanted to have all the information and also wait a little to see how practice went and how he feels."

Federer had expressed concern about how his post-operative left knee might respond to returning to clay-court tennis, but Luthi said the knee was not a factor in the withdrawal from the French Open.

Federer's team ultimately decided that it was not worth the risk to make the transition to clay for just one event.

"For the body, with the change of (tournament) surface, at one stage, you maybe pay the price for it a little bit," Luthi said. "So I'm really convinced this is a good decision."

Federer has not played a match since beating Nadal in the Miami Open final on April 2, although he did play two exhibition matches for his foundation during this layoff.

Winning an eighth Wimbledon is clearly the top priority. Federer's most recent triumph at the All England Club was in 2012. He was a finalist in 2014 and 2015 and a semi-finalist last year. His career record on grass is 152-23, his best winning percentage on any surface.

Federer plans to return to the circuit for the German grass-court events in Stuttgart and Halle next month before Wimbledon.

"The positive point is he can play two tournaments before Wimbledon. You don't have the guarantee to always come back and immediately win the tournament," Luthi said. "Roger has these two tournaments, and if, let's say, it would not go his way, he still has enough time to practise for Wimbledon."  

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2017, with the headline ' Federer to bypass French'. Print Edition | Subscribe