Decision made: Federer will play the clay

MELBOURNE, Australia – As it his habit after a premature, tough defeat, Roger Federer headed almost directly into his press conference from the court Sunday night.

Bu if the four-set loss to 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas was still raw, he could still make jokes.

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After saying in Swiss-German that he would, indeed, play on the red clay this spring, he responded this way, when the question was repeated in French.

“Yes. I made the decision during the second set.” 

In fact, the decision was made before the tournament. And the logic, according to Federer, was simple.

“I feel like it.”

No mega-break needed

Federer practicing on Court Philippe Chatrier before the 2012 French Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

When he gets his Nikes dirty once again, it will have been almost three years since he played on the dirt – since he lost to Dominic Thiem in the third round of Rome in 2016.

Federer last played the French Open in 2015.

That year, he lost in the quarterfinals to countryman Stan Wawrinka.

“I’m in a phase of my career where I want to have fun. I can say I missed it, though last year it was a good decision not to (play), and the year before that I was injured. I wanted to do it again,” he said.

“Maybe not have another mega break. I’ve had those. And I didn’t have the feeling (this year) that it was super-necessary for my tennis. So it was sort of decided like that.”

Federer didn’t elaborate on what kind of schedule he will play – obviously it won’t be a Nadal-type grind. So you’d have to assume that, beyond the French Open, it might involve one or two tuneups. 

There had been rumours before Christmas that his schedule might include Barcelona and Rome.

All this, of course, is hardly carved in stone. It assumes he comes through the Indian Wells-Miami swing healthy. He can always reserve the right to change his mind, based on prevailing circumstances.

But it’s already a step ahead of where he was in 2017.

Feeling great physically

If Federer didn’t look always 100 per cent physically at times against Tsitsipas Sunday – notably with all the forehand errors  – he said the opposite was true.

(We’ll note this, for the record, in case he comes back months from now and says different).

“If I’m going to lose, at least it was against someone who played well. I didn’t play badly. I felt very good physically, that’s why I leave this tournament with a good feeling for the (rest of) the season even though – again – it’s a little earlier than I wanted,” Federer said. 

“Life goes on. I will obviously talk with the team – why I didn’t convert my break points, why the forehand wasn’t working, what I could have done differently. On my side Im not sure I would have changed much. Hopefully (the team will) say the same thing. If not, we’ll discuss it.”

Leave as good as you arrived

“I like to leave a tournament feeling good. No one can tell me different, because I know how I felt for 3 1/2 hours. I worked hard to feel this way,” Federer said.  “Maybe in the past people would think, ‘When Federer feels like that, he never loses’. but the margins are small. When you miss break points all over the place, that’s the thing. Maybe you didn’t make the right decisions, and he did.

“That’s a very positive side. I know I’ve left certain tournaments with a back problem, a knee problem, it’s not the case this time. So I’m very relieved,” he added, noting that he also wasn’t able to break Tsitsipas at Hopman Cup. “The level of play is there. I just have to figure out a few things about Tsitsipas.”

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