No Federer at the French

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It didn’t seem like the most logical thing to do, given he is skipping the entire spring clay-court season. But all indications were that Roger Federer was planning to play the French Open later this month.

On Monday, the 35-year-old Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami champion announced a change of heart.

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No Federer at the French.

“Regrettably, I’ve decided not to participate in the French Open. 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 and prepare for the grass and hard court seasons,” he said.

It’s a surprise â€“ but only because Federer seemed fairly certain he would play. Even a couple of weeks ago during his Match for Africa exhibition in Seattle, he reiterated that was the plan.

On the other hand, it’s not really a surprise. 

Four days ago, Federer was still on a hard court. In retrospect, was that a hint?

The 35-year-old’s 2017 renaissance after missing half the season last year has been a surprise to everyone, including himself. And so you know he had to be tempted to head to Paris and give it a go – just as he did at the Australian Open – and see what happened.

That the top two players in the world, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, are struggling with form as they turn 30 could only have been more of an inducement. There likely has never been a better time in recent years to try to sneak away with another French Open title.

Suddenly, though, Federer’s longtime rival Rafael Nadal is playing like vintage Nadal. The Mallorcan moved ahead of Federer in the ATP Tour rankings Monday, dropping Federer to No. 5 and ensuring he could get no further than the quarter-finals before having to meet one of the top four.

Whether that was a factor or not is unknown.

One-shot deal on clay a risk

What is known are the challenges red clay poses to the body â€“ especially with no tournament prep and with the best-of-five set Grand Slam format. That was a factor the always-analytical Federer ultimately decided was too big to ignore.

He knows he stands a much better chance at Wimbledon and even at the US Open. And so he is scheduling accordingly. He is entered in a two grass-court prep tournaments before the big one at the All-England Club.

“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,” he said.  “I will miss the French fans, who have always been so supportive and I look forward to seeing them at Roland Garros next year.”

There’s a positive note – Federer plans to be there in 2018.

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