On Monday morning, Federer posted a message entitled “Roger to skip Roland Garros” on his website announcing that he will stay away from competing on clay entirely in 2017 and instead will prepare for the grass- and hard-court events that follow.
“I’ve been working really hard, both on and off the court, during the last month,” Federer wrote, “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. 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.”
His longtime coach Severin Luthi said “It was a tough decision to take, because he likes to play the French Open, likes to play the big tournaments. But I think it was the best decision for him. It’s an investment in his career — for this season and for the coming seasons. We are in a good situation. He is (healthier than he’s) been in the last five years. We could take the decision out of a position of strength.”
“I’m very confident that Roger will play the French Open again. He can play a different schedule next year. It’s not because he’s not playing the French 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.”
The 35-year-old Federer has not played in a tournament since April 2, when he won his third title of 2017 at the Miami Open and improved his record this year to 19-1, all on hard courts, his best start in more than a decade. At the time, he said he would be taking a break from the tour and did not commit to returning in time for the French Open.
Lüthi 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.
It’s the second year in a row that Federer pulled out of the French Open, where main-draw play begins in Paris on May 28. He won the title at the clay-court major in 2009 to complete a career Grand Slam.
“It’s really more a decision about him than the others,” Luthi said. “It would be a mistake to look at them too much.” Smart and selective scheduling has played a big role in Federer’s enduring excellence. He is the most successful men’s player of the Open era, with 18 Grand Slam singles titles, but his performance in 2017 has surpassed even his own expectations.
Lüthi said Federer was healthy. Federer had expressed concern about how his postoperative left knee might respond to returning to clay-court tennis, but Lüthi said the knee was not a factor in Federer’s withdrawal from the French Open. You never know, You don’t have the guarantee that you are not getting hurt, but really the knee is in perfect shape, so that luckily was not an issue.”
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 surface, at one stage, you maybe pay the price for it a little bit,” Lüthi said. “So I’m really convinced this is a good decision.”
Luthi said Federer plans to play at two grass-court tournaments in Germany — at Stuttgart starting June 12, and at Halle the week after that — before heading to Wimbledon, where play begins on July 3.
“We always said we were going to take the decision around the 10th of May,” Lüthi said. “We just wanted to have all the information and also wait a little to see how practice went and how he feels.” Winning an eighth Wimbledon is clearly Priority No. 1. Federer’s most recent triumph at the All England Club was in 2012.
“For Roger, it’s not that easy, even if people think it looks like that. He has these two tournaments, and if, let’s say, it would not go his way and he still has enough time to practice on grass for Wimbledon. He’s also going to be fresh and motivated and inspired, and that’s also very important.”
“Yeah, but I think it’s important you more look at it from your own side,” Lüthi said. “Roger, if he’s playing a tournament, in my eyes, he’s always able to win it and beat anyone on any surface. And on the other side, for me, even if Rafa is the big favorite in Paris, you never know what is going to happen. He could lose early or be injured or sick, so that was not really part of the decision-making, how Rafa was playing on clay.”