Match Points #24 : Where does Federer stand now ?
In the latest edition of Match Points, Marion Bartoli, Ben Rothenberg and Simon Cambers discuss Roger Federer’s comeback, his decision to miss Miami and whether it might be wise to skip Roland-Garros if he wants to win Wimbledon
Roger Federer‘s return to the ATP Tour in Doha this month caused excitement and fanfare and prompted a wave of debate about the Swiss, and whether he will be able to add to his 20 Grand Slam titles, with his 40th birthday just around the corner and Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal still riding high at the top of the world rankings.
In the latest edition of Tennis Majors’ show “Match Points”, former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli and journalists Ben Rothenberg and Simon Cambers discuss Roger Federer’s comeback to the Tour after 13 months – and two knee operations.
Host Josh Cohen kicks things off by asking the panel how good Federer’s comeback was.
Bartoli: “He made his assessment early on”
Rothenberg said everything needs to be put into context, with Federer a 20-times Grand Slam champion but now 39-years-old and recovering from two operations.
“Peak, let’s remember what peak Roger Federer was,” Rothenberg says. “That was winning three Grand Slams a year and being No 1, so he’s not close to that. But I do think it was not bad, for sure. He won a tough match against Dan Evans and then lost a close match against (Nikoloz) Basilashvili. He hasn’t played in a long time, he was certainly happy with his performance, it’s just tough to know really where he goes from here. It’s tough to know what his schedule will be like, how he will be able to do at Wimbledon, which is his spoken target tournament. So I don’t know entirely how to calibrate expectations for Roger, just because we don’t have much data.”
Bartoli said Federer had used Doha to figure out what he needs to do to get back in contention for another slam.
“In Doha, the way he was able to stay in the moment, he really didn’t show any frustration, that’s not easy to do, especially when you haven’t played for a long time,” the former Wimbledon champion said. “I think he was there to just evaluate where he is, to evaluate his game. I think he probably made the assessment early on, even in his first match, that he needed more fitness. That’s probably why he’s adding some tournaments on clay to his schedule because he really wants to win Wimbledon. That’s his major priority for this year.
“It was clear that after one set he was struggling physically, but he was able to rebound. But every time after that first set, he’s having a dip in the second so that’s due to a lack of matches and a problem of fitness as well.”
Cambers says he feels Federer showed enough to suggest that he can compete later in the year.
“I think he’s probably 50 percent of his peak at the moment, but I was impressed. I thought his footwork was dynamic in the first match. He competed really well. I thought he served well. It was good to see him back. When you’re assessing Federer, you’ve got to listen to him. He’s not hiding anything. He said, a couple of weeks before, he was playing sets against Evans in practice and he wasn’t sure he can handle him, so he made big leaps pretty quickly. I think he should use clay for the fitness in his legs come Wimbledon. It would be absolutely amazing if he won a ninth Wimbledon. His movement was exposed a bit in the second and third sets in those matches, but I don’t see any problem with his motivation. More positives than negatives.”
Miami pull-out a surprise? A mistake?
Missing Dubai, the week after Doha, was not a big shock but Cohen asks if it was a mistake for Federer not to play Miami. Cambers says no.
“This is someone who’s given so much to the Tour for 20 years, I think he’s allowed to make a couple of late decisions. He’s always been very smart about his schedule and no one would begrudge him picking and choosing his tournaments, even at a later stage. I don’t think he owes anyone anything. This could be the only opportunity he has for a training block.
Rothenberg says he feels Miami might have been good for Federer.
“I was surprised he pulled out of Miami,” he says. “I thought it would have made sense, with a day off between matches, it’s the closest thing to a slam. I don’t think he necessarily wants to be peaking on the clay, it’s gruelling, it’s his least favourite surface, it has the least to do with grass in terms of playing style.
But Bartoli says clay could be a bonus for Federer as he targets a ninth Wimbledon title.
“Roger almost never took a bad decision in his career,” she says. “Living here in Dubai, I know, it’s really hot, so if he’s able to practise outside for a month, he’s going to get really fit. Clay is not about the matches, it’s about the fitness to play long matches. I think for him, clay will be the perfect way for him to get those muscles back working. The time he spends there will help him in match situations.”
Should Federer skip Roland-Garros?
Cohen then asks if skipping Roland-Garros would actually be a good idea for Federer, if Wimbledon is so important to him?
Rothenberg says it depends how much Federer plays before Paris.
“If he wins Rome or something crazy, then yeah, you probably don’t really need to play the French Open,” he says. “But let’s remember, the last time Roger played the French Open in 2019, when he hadn’t played that much, he made the semi-finals, because the rest of the Tour compared to the Big 3 just isn’t that good right now.”
Cambers says it may depend how many grass-court events Federer wants to play before Roland-Garros while Bartoli feels it will depend how he feels physically, week in, week out.
“Let’s remember, he’s almost 40,” Bartoli says. “Probably he will schedule Roland-Garros and then depending what he feels before, he will take a decision. I think he will schedule it to start. But I sincerely think if he comes to Paris, plays well, reaches the final four, which I think would be a good result, then he would give himself the best chance to win Wimbledon. We saw it, when he made the final four at Roland-Garros, he had match point against Novak Djokovic in the final at Wimbledon.”
But is Federer being honest about his records?
Cohen then asks the big question: is Federer being honest when he says he just wants to stay healthy and is not worried about the overall record of 20 Grand Slams?
Bartoli says Federer is well aware of the records but sees the bigger picture. “He already got beaten by the No 1 weeks by Djokovic and I don’t think he wants to lose all his records but I don’t think he wants to put his body on the line just for one record. He has achieved enough,” she says.
Rothenberg says he thinks Federer has “given up on the record”.
“I think Roger’s pretty smart. He’s held this record for most Grand Slams since 2009, so that’s a nice 12 years and counting. I think he’s enjoyed this time, he recognises it can come to an end and it’s beyond his control. I also think he knows that Djokovic is going to outlast him and maybe get to 22, 23, or whatever.”
And Rothenberg adds that he thinks Federer doesn’t worry about anything he can’t control.
“I think Federer is extremely secure in his career and his achievements and everything about what it has meant to be Roger Federer. I don’t think he’s in the least bit worried to prove himself.”