On Monday, Roger Federer announced he was pulling out of the clay court Grand Slam at Roland Garros only 12 days before the first round begins. The decision comes as no surprise considering he hasn’t played since the final of Miami on April 2 and only a few days back, was training on the hard courts in Dubai. Federer’s reasoning behind the decision to pull out makes complete sense. In the statement, the Swiss said, “I’ve been working really hard, both on and off the court, during the last month but in order to try and play on the ATP World Tour for many years to come, I feel it’s best to skip the clay court season this year and prepare for the grass and hard court seasons.”
Preparing for the Parisian clay takes more out of a player than getting ready for a hard court Grand Slam. Players are well accustomed to playing on hard courts throughout the year but clay offers a different challenge. It is tricky to play on clay with the bounce of the ball, revolutions on the ball and footwork required.
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When Federer won in Miami, he made clear that he was going to take time off to prolong career and thus missing clay court tournaments in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Rome. It was fairly clear that clay wasn’t in his plans to push himself and his wearing body and that has become abundantly clear by skipping Paris.
It is no surprise that clay is easily the least preferred surface for Roger. He has a record of 704-140 on hard courts (win per centage of 83.4), 161-24 on grass (87.02 winning per centage) and that win ratio drops on clay to 217-72 (75.08%).
Secondly, if Federer enters a tournament, even a draining one as French Open, he should go into it with confidence that he would be playing on the second Sunday and vying for the trophy. But with Rafael Nadal in pulsating form, rolling back the years, with titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid, the odds of him winning reduce.
“Yeah, but I think it’s important you more look at it from your own side,” said Severin Luthi, Federer’s longtime coach to New York Times before adding, “Roger, if he’s playing a tournament, in my eyes, he’s always able to win it and beat anyone on any surface. And on the other side, for me, even if Rafa is the big favorite in Paris, you never know what is going to happen. He could lose early or be injured or sick, so that was not really part of the decision-making, how Rafa was playing on clay.”
He maintained the decision was a good one and in the best interest of Federer playing for a long time – even another French Open. “For the body, with the change of surface, at one stage, you maybe pay the price for it a little bit. So I’m really convinced this is a good decision.”
Federer practiced in Switzerland on clay but decided not to strain himself, or his left knee, that kept him out for six months last season, for a single tournament.
Federer will focus on grass court events and on hard courts for the remainder of the season. He would most likely target a return to the tour with grass court events in Stuttgart and Halle before the big one in Wimbledon. “This is more of an investment for the future,” Lüthi said. “The goal is to keep on playing ultimately for many more years on tour, and that’s why he has to make priorities, and unfortunately the French Open was not the highest priority in this case.”