In a confirmation that comes as no surprise to anyone other than the relentlessly optimistic and marketing-savvy Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley, Roger Federer will not make the trip Down Under.
Howard Fendrich of the Associated Press reports the news, after speaking to Federer agent Tony Godsick.
“Roger has decided not to play the 2021 Australian Open. He has made strong progress in the last couple of months with his knee and his fitness. However, after consultation with his team, he decided that the best decision for him in the long run is to return to competitive tennis after the Australian Open,” was the statement from Godsick to AP.
On the plus side, they didn’t keep everyone in suspense too long.
Federer had played the Australian Open 22 consecutive times, going all the way back to a first-round loss in the qualifying back in 1999.
The former No. 1, who turns 40 in August, has had two knee surgeries in 2020, and hasn’t played since the Australian Open in January.
Shortly afterwards (it’s Monday afternoon in Australia), TIley issued a statement.
“In the end Roger ran out of time to get himself ready for the rigours of a Grand Slam and he’s very disappointed he won’t be coming to Melbourne in 2021,” the statement said.
“The Australian Open has always held a special place in his heart – remember it was Roger who first called the AO the “happy slam. We wish him all the best as he prepares for his comeback later in the year and look forward to seeing him in Melbourne in 2022.”
Not much recent news from the Fed
The social-media blackout was nearly complete, save for a few promotional items and the like. But it was clear enough that the Swiss star had only begun practicing fairly recently.
In remarks earlier this month, he said that the three-week delay in holding the 2021 edition of the Australian Open bought him some time. But still, he said, it was going to be tight.
Too tight, as it turns out.
Federer no doubt is looking (way) ahead to Wimbledon, where he might have his best chance to make a deep run at a major.
Beyond that, the postponed Tokyo Olympics come up this summer. And the long-term, big-money contract Federer signed with Japanese clothing manufacturer Uniqlo two years ago was a deal that was pointing towards this Olympic moment to maximize value.
The “pandemic” ranking rules will allow Federer to conserve his semi-final result from 2020 all the way to the 2022 edition.
And you know that tournaments like Dubai and Rotterdam are going to be efforting HARD with their sponsors to come up with an appearance fee for him to make his return at their events.
Best-of-five, far too soon for Federer
The other issue is that the Australian Open, as a Grand Slam tournament, has a best-of-five set format in singles.
With only a few weeks of practice, that would be a tough ask.
So would the 14-day mandatory quarantine, with only a few hours a day of freedom to train and have treatment.
No ATP Cup for Switzerland?
The absence of Federer likely means we might not see Switzerland in the ATP Cup, either.
Although, by ranking, Stan Wawrinka might be able to theoretically lead a team.
There’s no way to really know, yet. Despite some “definitive-looking’ lists and entries on the usual dodgy and suspect tennis web sites, the deadline for entry isn’t until Monday. And no one really knows for sure what the 12-nation competition will look like just yet.
Back in January, Wawrinka had a commitment to play the season-opening tournament in Doha. The Doha event was held the same week as the ATP Cup.
That, obviously, is not a consideration this year.
And Switzerland didn’t take part at all after Federer, who had committed, decided to pull out to “spend more time with his family”.
For this edition, Switzerland could have Henri Laaksonen (No. 134) and/or Marc-André Huesler (No. 148) on a squad.
The highest-ranked Swiss doubles player is 28-year-old Luca Margaroli, at No. 143.