Roger Federer is slated to make his long-awaited comeback to the tennis circuit next month in Doha. The 20-time major winner has not played on the ATP Tour since his semifinal loss to Novak Djokovic at the 2020 Australian Open.
Even as rivals Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal chase another Grand Slam in Melbourne this fortnight, the Swiss legend's return and eventual retirement continue to generate plenty of interest among his fans. Former World No. 17 Nicolas Escude, who partnered Roger Federer at the 2000 French Open doubles event, is among those keenly following the comeback of the 39-year-old.
In an interview with the French edition of GQ magazine, Escude claimed that while no one is certain how long Roger Federer will continue playing, everyone knows the Swiss legend won't be around for many more years.
"For several years, we all ask ourselves the same question: is Roger Federer entering his final year? The more the years go on, the closer it gets. But to say that it is the last year in 2021, I am waiting to see anyway," Escude stated.
"He said he was not physically ready because of his knee to come and play the Australian Open," the Frenchman added. "But I think the conditions of access to the tournament perhaps did not suit him. How will this year go in terms of health for tennis? Are all tournaments going to take place? In what conditions ? We just know that Roger Federer is not going to play for another five years."
Escude, who scored three wins in seven career meetings against Roger Federer, also refused to write off the Swiss' chances of winning a 21st Grand Slam. The Frenchman did admit, however, that it would be a difficult task for Roger Federer given that the rest of the field is catching up with the Big 3.
"It will be much harder than before," Escude said. "Some young players have gained confidence. Dominic Thiem won a Grand Slam so that will set him free. Alexander Zverev reached the final, he is not far. Felix Auger-Aliassime arrives and others will rise in the ranks. It becomes tougher at the competition level at the top of the pyramid."
On clay Rafael Nadal is above everyone, but on hardcourts Novak Djokovic is always there: Nicolas Escude
In the same interview, Nicolas Escude also gave his thoughts about Roger Federer's two main rivals - Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Along with Federer, the Spaniard and the Serb are chasing the all-time record for most Grand Slam singles titles in men's tennis history.
Escude believes Nadal is head and shoulders above any other player on clay. But he added that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Spaniard to dominate on hardcourts due to the wear-and-tear on his body and the dominance of Djokovic.
"On clay, Nadal is above everyone. It has, however, been more complicated on hard courts for some time," Escude said. "On the physical aspect in particular, he says it himself. Knees, back ... It is difficult to get to the final rounds of these tournaments without being reduced. Novak Djokovic is there and will remain so. He has the experience, the baggage, he runs after records. On other surfaces than on clay, he wins much more than he loses against Nadal and Federer. "
Escude also believes that Djokovic's off-court initiatives, such as the Adria Tour & the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA), reflect his need to gain recognition and perhaps enhance his legacy in the sport.
"We feel that Novak needs recognition vis-a-vis the other two and what they represent for their sport," Escude went on. "He tries to do a lot of things. It was good to be able to revive tennis with this exhibition near his home last summer but it was a fiasco. He makes some weird statements too. There is also this desire to mount an organization parallel to ATP (referring to the PTPA). He tries to do as much as possible, off the courts."