For French Open fans the news isn’t good. Roger Federer is skipping the entire clay-court swing, meaning he will miss Roland Garros for the third straight year.
“I decided not to play,” Federer concisely told reporters after suffering an upset loss to Australian qualifier Thanasi Kokkinakis in the Miami Open on Saturday.
The men’s record 20-time grand slam winner didn’t make a knee-jerk reaction in frustration after losing 3-6 6-3 7-6 (7-4) to Kokkinakis. Rather he said he had already held discussions with his entourage.
Federer pulled out of the 2016 French Open — in the midst of knee and back issues — and last year didn’t play the entire clay-court swing as he opted to gear up for Wimbledon. The decision proved a masterstroke, since he didn’t drop a set en route to claiming an eighth Wimbledon title.
With no apparent injuries, the 2009 French Open winner is presumably thinking big picture.
If he wanted to compete at the French Open, Federer probably would have had to play in two buildup tournaments in May, Madrid and Rome. The toll on his 36-year-old body could have lingered and impacted not only his grass-court preparations but the rest of 2018 or even beyond.
Tokyo 2020 on his mind?
And if Federer has the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in his sights — which he might, since the only thing missing from his extensive, glittering resume is an Olympic singles gold — exercising caution is fully understandable even if his major rivals may be less than 100% at the French Open.
Bypassing this year’s French Open though lessens the chances of Federer ever returning to the year’s second grand slam, despite co-coach Severin Luthi telling the New York Times last May that he was “very confident” the father of four would return one day.
After starting the year 17-0 — a run highlighted by winning his 20th major at January’s Australian Open — Federer has lost two matches in a row for the first time since 2014.
Having fallen to Juan Martin del Potro in a tense Indian Wells final — that too ended in a third-set tiebreak — Federer blew a set lead against Kokkinakis.
Like Del Potro, Kokkinakis has been hit hard by injuries, the lone reason the big-serving 21-year-old is ranked 175th. He spent time training with Federer in the latter’s second home of Dubai earlier in his career.
“He’s a cool guy, a cool demeanor,” said Federer. “It’s a big result for him in his career. I hope it’s going to launch him, really getting his ranking up.”
Federer will lose his No. 1 ranking to the currently injured Rafael Nadal when Miami concludes.
Djokovic out of sorts
Women’s No. 1 Simona Halep was ousted hours earlier Saturday by Agnieszka Radwanska 3-6 6-2 6-3 and on Friday, Djokovic lost his third match in a row — that hadn’t happened since 2007 — when he was eliminated by France’s Benoit Paire 6-3 6-4.
Djokovic underwent a medical procedure on his troublesome right elbow about eight weeks ago and is clearly nowhere near the form that has seen the Serb win 12 grand slam titles.
“I’m not at the level that I used to be,” Djokovic, topped by Japanese qualifier Taro Daniel in Indian Wells, admitted to reporters. “I’m aware of that. I just have to obviously believe in myself and hopefully it will come.
“I wanted to come to Indian Wells and Miami because I wanted to see whether I can play a match. I love playing on the hard court. I wanted to get a couple tournaments before the clay court season starts.
“I obviously wasn’t ready for that.”
One player who is thriving is Del Potro, who ran his winning streak to 13 matches Sunday by defeating 2014 US Open finalist Kei Nishikori 6-2 6-2 in the third round.