Very soon, Roger Federer will make his return to clay courts. Having skipped the last two clay court seasons entirely in the name of preserving his health and prolonging his career, Federer made the somewhat surprising decision to compete this year, and will begin doing so at the Madrid Open in May – likely in advance of a French Open entry.
The question a lot of fans will be asking is whether or not this is a good idea.
Roger Federer health concerns
The main concern, clearly, is health. Roger Federer will turn 38 this season, which is not just old for a professional tennis player, but very old for one as competitive as he still is. To some extent he’s rewritten the rule book regarding aging in tennis – he’s barely a year removed from winning the 2018 Australian Open, and he’s still a top-five player in the world. However, many also credit his continued success these last few seasons with the fact that he has taken the clay court season off, allowing himself more rest. There is clearly some worry that adding these tournaments and the travel that comes with them to his schedule will shorten his career, or even lead directly to an injury.
Another concern for Federer fans is that this decision could hurt his odds at another Wimbledon title – in some ways the title that has most defined his career, and possibly the Grand Slam he has the best chance of winning one more time. Detailed previews of Wimbledon will start to emerge throughout the clay court season, and they’ll likely count Federer among the favorites, and discuss his chance at capturing his best Slam. But could a punishing clay court season worsen his odds? Could struggles on a surface he’s largely avoided of late wind up hurting his seeding in London and thus his chance of hoisting the Wimbledon trophy? These are real concerns.
There are reasons it could be a good idea for Roger Federer to play the clay court season also though. One is that in a strange way he may have his best shot in recent memory at a French Open title. This is so simply because his chief rival and the best living clay court player, Rafael Nadal, has his own injury concerns. It’s easy to forget it because he got himself right and made a run to the final in Melbourne, but just weeks before the Australian Open Nadal had a concerning withdrawal and seemed on the brink of another bout of injury concerns (of which he’s had several in his career). Nadal appears healthy now, but he too is at risk as he gets further into his 30s, and should he be injured or less than his best, Federer would have an opportunity to seize a second French Open title – which would go a long way toward solidifying his resume as the greatest player of all time.
Of course, above all else, Federer may also just be having fun. He has suggested, more or less, that he simply feels up to it this year, so he’s going to do it. A few have expressed concern that perhaps that means he’s nearing the end of his career and wants to play the clay court season one more time. More likely, however, is that it’s a positive sign for his longevity. Federer has always said or implied that he’ll keep playing as long as he’s enjoying it and as long as he’s competitive. If he’s having enough fun to get back on clay, we should all hope it means he’s having enough fun to stick around for a while longer still.