Roger Federer has played just three matches since the Australian Open, and it remains to be seen whether he will compete in any further ahead of the start of the French Open, now just two weeks away. The 17-time Grand Slam champion is set to open his campaign at the Italian Open in Rome on Wednesday against Alexander Zverev, but it is still unclear if he will take to the Center Court.
Federer didn’t hold his press conference on Tuesday and is thought to still be suffering with a back injury that forced him into a late withdrawal from the Madrid Open last week. It is just the latest issue to strike the Swiss since he was ousted in the semifinals of the Australian Open by Novak Djokovic.
Just days after the tournament in Melbourne, Federer underwent knee surgery forcing him to miss tournaments in Rotterdam, Dubai and Indian Wells before illness ruled him out of Miami. The 34-year-old was not initially set to play any clay-court events ahead of the French Open, but that lack of action compelled him to make late entries at Monte Carlo, where he was beaten in the quarterfinals by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, as well as at Madrid.
Despite that lack of action, Federer has this week overtaken Andy Murray as world No. 2, behind only Djokovic in the rankings. However, Federer needs a big showing in the Italian capital to keep hold of that ranking going into Roland Garros, having reached the final last year, losing to Djokovic, while Murray was knocked out in the third round.
Yet just getting onto the court and getting through his second round match on Wednesday would represent something of a triumph at the present time. It will not help that he is scheduled to play the first match of the day on Center Court. He will also be taking on a dangerous opponent in German 19-year-old Zverev.
Get through that and a meeting with another talented young player, Austria’s Dominic Thiem, or Joao Sousa, a quarterfinalist in Madrid last week, will await. Indeed, Federer’s section of the draw is far from straightforward, with Kei Nishikori and either Djokovic or Nadal potential opponents if he is to get back to the final.
Federer’s defeat to Djokovic last year was his fourth defeat in a Rome final, meaning it remains, along with Monte Carlo, one of only two Masters 1000 events he has yet to win. Realistically, he won’t be expecting that duck to be broken this year.
Even the French Open for Federer this year may be little more than a tune up for what he will hope will be a busy and profitable summer ahead, including Wimbledon, the Olympics and the U.S. Open. Before pulling out of Madrid, Federer wasn’t exactly boisterous when discussing his prospects at Roland Garros.
"I don't think I have zero chance to lift the title at Roland Garros,” he told Spanish sports daily Marca. “I think if the draw is in my favor, if I'm playing well, I'll have my chances.”
At the Grand Slam that has been his least successful, Federer is at best considered the No. 5 favorite right now, behind Djokovic, Nadal, Murray and defending champion Stan Wawrinka. Some playing time and some victories in Rome will be required to alter that perception ahead of his arrival in Paris.