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Roger Federer and his absence from clay courts

Aakash Kumar
361   //    27 May 2018, 05:40 IST

2009 French Open - Day Fifteen
Roger Federer won the French Open in 2009


Roger Federer is arguably the greatest men’s tennis player of all time. The man has won 20 Grand Slams, 97 titles, has spent a record 308 weeks at the top of the world rankings, reached a record 30 grand slam finals, and has achieved almost everything there is to achieve in the tennis world. The list of all his achievements is just so large that it is absolutely futile to list them over here.

The French Open starts today, and there is a very high chance that you are aware of the fact that Roger Federer will be missing the second Grand Slam of the year for the second year in a row, as a result of his decision of having an off-season (read rest) type thing during the middle of the tour.

Now, this is somewhat strange for a player like Federer to miss grand slams, especially if you consider the fact that this man appeared in 65 consecutive grand slams, starting from the 2000 Australian Open and ending at the 2016 French Open, which he had to miss due to injuries.

Moreover, if you consider the fact that Roger Federer doesn’t only like playing on the big stages, he strives for it, it becomes even more strange that he decided to skip the French Open, one of the prestigious 4 grand slam tournaments, for a third straight time.

So the question arises, why? 

It is because Roger Federer is one hell of a smart person, who is not overcome by his emotions to jeopardise his body, and maybe even his career. He knows he is not 25 anymore. He needs to manage his schedule more effectively, so that it reduces the stress on his 36-year-old body, and increases his chances of winning tournaments.

He knows his weakest surface is clay, even though he says that he grew up playing on clay courts. Plus, clay is the most physically demanding. Clay court means longer rallies and slower ball speeds, which are both contradictory to Federer’s game style i.e. attacking tennis, and keeping the points as short as possible.

Add to this the incredible form of the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, and the chances of winning the French Open, or any clay court tournament for that matter, is almost negligible. 

Day Thirteen: The Championships - Wimbledon 2017
Roger Federer won Wimbledon last year for a record 8th time

So, instead of gruelling on the clay courts, as the rest of the tour is currently doing, he decides to take a break that will help him rest his body and get in shape for the coming grass-court season, so that he can maximise his chances of winning a 9th Wimbledon title, which the entire tennis world knows is Federer territory. His 17 grass-court titles, which includes a record 8 Wimbledon crowns, speak for themselves. 

2015 French Open - Day One
The last time Roger Federer played at the French Open was in 2015

Not a slouch on clay

A lot of people have this misconception that Roger Federer is not a good clay court player, which mainly arise due to the fact that his records on hard courts and grass courts eclipse those on the clay courts. He has reached 5 French Open finals (he lost in 4 of them to Rafael Nadal, widely considered to be the greatest clay-court player of all time). He won the remaining final in 2009, against Robin Soderling.

Winning the French Open, during the Nadal-era at the French Open is no small feat, even if you consider that he didn't have to face Rafa at Roland Garros that year. He has also won 11 clay court titles, including 6 Masters 1000 titles.

It’s just that his chances of winning Wimbledon are greater than the French Open, due to which he decides on skipping the clay court season to maximise his chances of winning Wimbledon, his favourite tournament. 

So, will we ever see Roger Federer at the French Open?

Roger Federer strives for the big stage. He just can’t imagine his tennis matches without his fans. That’s why I believe that even though his chances of winning the French Open are slim considering the form Rafa is in currently, he will still make an appearance at the Philippe Chatrier court at some point in time.