As organizers finalized plans to move the Australian Open from its usual January start to February, the world’s top 100 men and women rushed to register, longing to have a grand in a country with few cases of coronavirus Playing slam even when it did meant a two week quarantine on arrival.
Then, just a few days after signing up, Roger Federer announced on Monday that he would not play in Australia after all as he was working back from knee surgery.
Federer hopes to play again, but will a return come in the form of a farewell tour or a legitimate run at championships? Federer will be 40 years old in August.
He has not played a competitive tournament since the Australian Open 2020, where he played two games in five sets before falling to eight-time champion Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals. It also played a charity game in South Africa in February, but announced early during the pandemic that it would be closed for the remainder of the season as the sport itself worked on when it could return.
When he was recovering from his first knee operation during the first lockdown in Switzerland, Federer charmed fans by hitting the snow in front of his house. Then came the announcement that he had a second operation in the spring and spoke of his slow recovery.
“I had two knee surgeries so this was dominated – rehabilitating myself, being on crutches, recovering from the surgery and doing it step by step. I have to say I am feeling much better again,” he said during one Sponsor appearance last summer.
As expected, he skipped the United States Open and the French Open. Tennis advanced into the next phase when Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev fought for the first new men’s Grand Slam winner since 2014 in the US Open final and Thiem was ahead. (Rafael Nadal skipped the tournament so as not to travel to the US and Djokovic was thrown for hitting a ball that hit a linesman.)
Nadal connected Federer with his 20th Grand Slam at the French Open in October.
Federer remained confident that he could perform in Australia, especially after it became clear that the tournament would be pushed back three weeks to meet strict protocols for international travelers, including players.
But in a statement to The Associated PressTony Godsick, Federer’s agent, said Federer has decided that despite recent advances, his best chance at any time left in professional tennis is to return to the Australian Open.
“I’ll start discussions next week about tournaments starting in late February and then schedule the rest of the year,” said Godsick.
This could include plans for the Olympics where Federer won a gold medal in doubles in 2008 and a silver medal in singles in 2012.
In a statement, Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said: “The Australian Open has always had a special place in his heart – remember, it was Roger who first called the Australian Open a ‘Happy Slam’.”
Federer is still number 5 in the world. He last won the Australian Open in 2018 at the age of 37. It is his most recent Grand Slam title. After nearly winning Wimbledon in 2019, it seemed like he could keep up at the highest level for a few more years.
Now it’s unclear when he could come back, let alone against his long-time rivals Djokovic and Nadal.