Roger Federer's return to clay: Challenges the Swiss Maestro might face
One important reason for any tennis buff to watch the European clay court season this year is the expected return of Roger Federer on clay for the first time since his last appearance on the clay in 2015 French Open.
With much excitement surrounding his return, there are also some stiff challenges that lie ahead for the Swiss Maestro in terms of the players he is going to face and the climatic conditions as well.
Clay is the least preferred surface for Roger and almost everyone who follow him and the tennis world knows this fact. If we have a look at his performances on clay, he did win the French Open once in 2009 after defeating Robin Soderling in straight sets.
Roger has always been a player who just naturally plays the game in a way he wants to play and he follows that even on clay courts. He has done exactly the same throughout his career even on the red dirt as he never shied away from cutting down a point by hitting a winner.
His adaptability on clay has been more of a physical aspect rather than a mental one because he never really tried to change his game plan suiting the surface and in some respects, that wouldn't have been a good idea considering his elegant game style.
Even on clay, he tried to do almost everything he would do on a grass court and this attitude helped him as he won a fair amount of tournaments till he last played in Paris in 2015. In that year, he won the Istanbul Open which was an ATP 250 Tour event by defeating Pablo Cuevas in the final.
In Monte Carlo that year, he lost surprisingly to the local favorite Gael Monfils in the third round and even in Madrid Open, he lost to Nick Kyrgios in the first round in 3 tight sets where he had two match points but was not able to cling onto them.
In the Italian Open that year, he reached the final where he eventually lost to Djokovic who was nearly unstoppable then with the score 4-6, 3-6.
Coming to Roland Garros, he lost in the quarter-finals to Stan Wawrinka as Stan went on to claim his first ever French Open title with a spectacular victory over Novak Djokovic.
If we observe these matches, Federer never deviated from his game and in the process, handed away break points, games and sets to his opponents. His aggression was what made him win a few titles on clay and on the flip side, the same aggressive display was responsible for his losses as well.
Now coming to this year, why it will be even more tough for Roger Federer to penetrate deeper into the tournaments?
The answer -- there are many interesting and exciting young players on tour who are exhibiting endurance which is one of the main factors to be victorious on clay. This list includes the likes of players like Daniil Medvedev, Dominic Thiem, Guido Pella, Fabio Fognini, Borna Coric, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Apart from these players, there is always a potential threat from his peers in the form of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Roberto Bautista Agut and a few other players.
Along with the competition which his higher now than ever for Roger in his comeback to clay, there is also this one important aspect of his game where he was not able to dominate from the baseline as much as he used to do.
This can be a devastating factor as it will always be difficult to win points through winners on clay and you have to really tire the opponent by playing long and lengthy rallies. Not that this is the only way but this is how the surface tends to make players behave on court.
Federer playing back again on clay is great for fans and for the sport but it is not going to be easy for Roger to achieve success instantly on clay and he knows it better than anyone else as he is more of a realist both on and off courts.
It will be great to see him lift a trophy or go as deep as possible in this clay season but if it affects his chances in the remainder of the grass and the hardcourt seasons, it will make life very difficult for Roger and his fans around the world.
Roger will be starting on a low key right from Madrid Open this May like he did in the Australian Open 2017 as it will be difficult to expect the same spectacular run he had over there. But, it will be an eye feast to watch Federer hitting his own shots on clay with his trademark elegance and dexterity.