Roger Federer
Roger Federer of Switzerland plays beach tennis during a Hopman Cup preview at Cottesloe Beach, Dec. 30, 2016 in Perth, Australia. Paul Kane/Getty Images

As he prepares for the new year with a return to the tennis court, Roger Federer left no doubt as to his chief ambition for 2017.

“Catch ya later 16… See ya soon 17… Going for 18,” Federer tweeted on Saturday.

The 18, of course, refers to his quest to add to his record-setting 17 Grand Slam titles. It is a quest that is so far three-and-a-half years in the making. Since lifting the Wimbledon title in 2012, with every passing Grand Slam a growing contingent of people have written off his chances of ever again landing one of the sport’s four most prestigious titles.

Those doubts reached their highest pitch yet after he followed up his semifinal defeat at Wimbledon in July by announcing that he was taking the rest of the year off to fully heal a knee injury that first sprung up after January’s Australian Open.

At the age of 35, an age when most players have long since hung up their racket, could Federer really return from a long injury layoff to even be competitive at the very top of tennis again, never mind win a Grand Slam title?

Federer has repeatedly insisted that he can continue to be a factor in the business end of major tournaments. He did so again when asked in Australia this week ahead of the start of the season whether this could be his last trip Down Under.

“Only when I get asked do I think of things like this," he said, according to the Associated Press. "I don't see it like this, that this could be my last Australian trip, even though it might very well be. I’m really positive. I took these six months off so I would be playing for hopefully another two to three years, not just another six months or so. So my mindset is for the long term.”

"Winning titles is a beautiful feeling; rankings at the moments ... completely secondary," Federer said Friday. "As long as I'm healthy and injury free I think I can really do some damage.”

Federer will return to the court at the Hopman Cup team event on Monday when his Switzerland team take on Great Britain. From there, he will travel to Melbourne, where the first Grand Slam of 2017, the Australian Open, will get underway Jan. 16.

Yet his chances of making a serious impact in Melbourne look slim. Not only will Federer have to combat the rustiness of not playing for six months, but also a lowly ranking as a result of his absence from the tour.

Federer has fallen outside of the word’s top 10 for the first time in more than 14 years and currently sits at 16 in the world. With the Hopman Cup carrying no ranking points, there is the possibility that his ranking could fall yet further before he arrives in Melbourne.

Even as it is, it would mean he could face the likes of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic as early as the fourth round.

It is unlikely, too, that he will be able to have much success at the French Open, where he has not gone beyond the quarterfinals since 2012. Once again, his best chance will be at Wimbledon, a tournament he has won seven times and where he was able to reach the semifinals this year despite not being fully healthy.