Roger Federer set to miss Wimbledon next year – but Centre Court curtain call remains the focus

Roger Federer set to miss Wimbledon next year - but Centre Court remains focus as he plots return - HEATHCLIFF O'MALLEY/TELEGRAPH
Roger Federer set to miss Wimbledon next year – but Centre Court remains focus as he plots return – HEATHCLIFF O’MALLEY/TELEGRAPH

Roger Federer says that he does not want his 6-0 “bagel” set against Hubert Hurkacz to be his final act as a tennis professional, and hopes to make one more miraculous comeback – even if it is not until late next year.

Federer lost 6-3, 7-6, 6-0 to Hurkacz in this summer’s Wimbledon quarter-final, and did not play again all season because of a third operation on his troublesome right knee. He turned 40 in early August.

Rumours were swirling that he might soon announce his retirement. But Federer felt otherwise. It was he who contacted the Swiss-German daily newspaper Tages-Anzeiger to reveal details of his physical condition as well as his dreams of one last tilt at the big titles.

Speaking to the paper’s tennis correspondent Mathieu Aeschmann, Federer explained that his latest injury had been particularly troublesome, and that he was unlikely to play next year’s Wimbledon because of the lengthy rehabilitation process.

“I wanted to wait for the first major check-up before making a public statement, and the check-up was very encouraging,” said Federer.

“I have started a long rehabilitation process in which I put all my heart and soul. But the situation is not the same as in 2016” – the year when he sensationally returned from a six-month absence to win the Australian Open the following January.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion said he would be able to resume running in January and return to training on the court in March or April. “I need to be very patient and give my knee the time to heal. The next few months will be crucial,” Federer said.

As far as retirement is concerned, he explained that he does not want his fans’ last memory of him to be that mediocre display against Hurkacz at Wimbledon, when the pain in his knee had restricted his movement to the point of powerlessness.

“I think that every athlete should decide for himself,” Federer said. “There is no right time to retire. There is only the time that suits each individual athlete. It is a very personal decision.

“What kind of image will people remember of me? My last set at Wimbledon last July? Or my Grand Slam titles and what it triggered in them when they watched me play? My money is on the latter. For a few years now, I’ve been pretty relaxed about that.

“But I understand the fans’ feelings. It would be easy for me to say ‘I’ve given a lot and received a lot. Let’s stop here.’ But me investing everything to come back is also my way of saying ‘thank you’. My fans deserve better than the image of my last grass season.

“My world will not collapse if I never play in another Grand Slam final. But it is my ultimate dream to return once again. And in fact, I still believe in it. I believe in these kinds of miracles.”

Federer added that he had anticipated a disappointing Wimbledon as soon as he lost to Felix Auger-Aliassime in the second round of his grass-court warm-up in Halle, Germany. It was the first time he had failed to reach the semi-finals there in 20 years.

“When you get right down to it, it doesn’t make much difference whether I return in 2022 or not until 2023, at 40 or 41,” Federer concluded. “The question is rather ‘Will I manage to torture myself again day after day for my comeback?’ My heart says ‘yes’ today. So I’m taking things step by step.

“I have experienced similar challenges many times in my career, sometimes without the public being aware of it. And even though I know that the end is near, I want to try to play some big matches again. It won’t be easy, but I will try.”

Federer targets another deep SW19 run – and fitting Centre Court curtain call

Analysis by Simon Briggs

For Roger Federer, there is the tennis tour – and then there is Wimbledon. Here is one reason why he is so desperate to return for a final tilt: because he doesn’t want his last act on the cathedral of Centre Court to be that 6-0 “bagel” set against Hubert Hurkacz from July 7.

Federer’s interview with Tages-Anzeiger makes his thinking clear. He doesn’t expect to be fully match-fit by the time next summer’s Wimbledon comes around, and has little intention of showing up in sketchy shape, especially after the way he struggled there this year on a damaged right knee.

Instead, Federer is clearly working towards the 2023 season, where he hopes to give a proper account of himself. He pointed out that “it doesn’t make much difference whether I return in 2022 or not until 2023, at 40 or 41”, before adding that something special could still be possible at that advanced age. “I believe in these kinds of miracles,” he said. “I have already experienced them.”

Wimbledon’s Centre Court has a symbolic appeal to players like Federer. But also, on a practical level, it is also much easier to collect cheap wins there. The majority of young players move like prop forwards on ice as soon as they shift from the predictability of a hard court to the living, breathing surface that is grass.

This is why both Federer and Andy Murray still believe that they can inflict serious damage at Wimbledon, even when far past their prime. Just as Murray reached the quarter-finals on one hip in 2017, so Federer did the same thing on one knee this year.

They make up for their physical limitations with an instinctive understanding of how to play on grass, using plenty of slices and low balls rather than the tour’s go-to method of heavy topspin.

In his mind’s eye, Federer is probably thinking that he can spend 2022 building up his leg strength to cover for the weaknesses in that right knee, before embarking on the tour early in 2023.

Then he will aim for a deep and dignified run at Wimbledon, bagel-free this time, followed by one last interview with Sue Barker. A wave to his devoted fans, and it will be back to his home village in Switzerland for the next act of his graceful life.