Roger Federer made a losing return to clay as he was defeated by Spain's Pablo Andujar in the second round of the Geneva Open on Tuesday. Federer had taken nearly 13 months off to deal with multiple knee injuries last year, and he has won just one match out of three in 2021 so far.
In that context, Roger Federer's former coach and TV analyst Paul Annacone recently claimed that the 39-year-old's comeback this year is unlikely to be the same as the one he made four years ago. Annacone did add, however, that Federer's confidence levels at Wimbledon remain as high as ever.
Roger Federer had spent a large chunk of the 2016 season out with injury, but when he returned in 2017 he immediately won the Australian Open. The Swiss then completed the 'Sunshine Double' in Indian Wells and Miami before going on to win Wimbledon too, and his run of strong results eventually helped him regain the No. 1 ranking in 2018.
But in a conversation with The New York Times, Paul Annacone asserted that the current situation is "way different" from the one in 2017.
"I think this is way different from four years ago, and 35 is way different than closing in on 40," Annacone said.
Roger Federer will play Roland Garros next, but he will go into the claycourt Slam with only one match under his belt on the surface. Federer recently revealed that he is playing in Paris mainly to prepare for Wimbledon, and he has also confirmed his participation in the grasscourt event at Halle.
Paul Annacone on his part doesn't think Roger Federer has a great chance of winning the French Open, but he does believe the Swiss is confident of doing well at Wimbledon.
"I think Paris is going to be really challenging for him," Annacone said. "But if the body sustains itself and maintains good health and he gets enough reps, Roger’s not going to go into the grass season not thinking he can win Wimbledon. He'll say all the right stuff, but in his heart of hearts, he knows he can win that tournament."
Annacone went on to claim that Federer is no longer the invincible force that he used to be, and that the rest of the players would be sniffing their chance of beating him now that he's in the last leg of his career.
"The less dominant you are, the more that aura of invincibility starts to dissipate just a tad," Annacone said. "And it only needs to dissipate a tad to make a difference. The locker room antenna is up."
"The expectations for Roger Federer and Serena Williams are so rough" - Paul Annacone
Much like Roger Federer, Serena Williams is also looking to make a winning return to clay this year. Williams played her first claycourt match since 2020 Roland Garros at Rome last week, losing to Nadia Podoroska in the second round.
The American then took a wildcard into Parma, but lost in straight sets to Katerina Siniakova - again in the second round. And Paul Annacone believes that both Roger Federer and Serena Williams are in for a difficult time at Roland Garros next month.
"The expectations for both of them are so rough," Annacone said. "As soon as there’s a loss, there are all these sweeping conclusions. They are at the peril of their own brand, so to speak. They can definitely still be great, but I’ll be interested to see if they can stay great for a whole match, a whole tournament."
While Serena Williams is on the hunt to equal Margaret Court's record of 24 Grand Slams, Roger Federer will be desperate to keep his record of 20 intact. Many believe that the Swiss' mark will be eclipsed by Rafael Nadal at the upcoming French Open, where the Spaniard is the overwhelming favorite.