This is a big summer for Roger Federer; there’s no getting away from that.
His comeback, which started in March after over a year out, has been tailored around getting him into the best shape possible for this summer. He’s said that the grass is where the “season starts” for him and has made clear that Wimbledon is his “huge goal” for the year. Where his season goes beyond the next month is uncertain, even whether he will compete at the Olympics, but Wimbledon is fast approaching and Federer has only two competitive grass matches under his belt.
The 39-year-old was hoping for a run of matches in Halle to get back into the swing of things but was beaten in the second round by Felix Auger-Aliassime, who came into the tournament on the back of making the final at the grass-court Stuttgart Open last week.
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Federer produced a solid performance in the first set, with one break enough for him to take it. But his level then dropped. His first-serve winning percentage fell from 75 in the first set to 59 in the second set, and he only won five points on Auger-Aliassime’s serve. Federer’s serve fell off even further in the third set as the match got away from him surprisingly quickly.
Federer was clearly more frustrated with his performance than any other since making his comeback. He has largely seen the positives in previous defeats – except his first-round loss at the Geneva Open – as he has hoped they would be stepping stones towards getting back to full fitness for the summer.
But after losing to Auger-Aliassime he took two-and-a-half hours to come to his press conference, far longer than normal. Federer said part of the reason was because he didn't want to say the "wrong things".
“I felt like I needed time to digest the third set. I was unhappy with how it ended, similar to Geneva in some ways where I felt like I played good in spells but it was up and down.
“I’d rather keep it simple and short in the press today. I'd rather take my time to come in. I’m not doing it sweaty and heated. I took my time because I didn't want to say the wrong things to you guys.”
Federer also admitted that he started to get “negative” during the match as it slipped away from him.
“At the end things went quickly and I believe that had a lot to do with where I was at. It was not a good attitude from my side. I was disappointed in the way I was feeling on court, the way things were going, that I'm not getting better spells and all that stuff.
"I think the whole difficulty of the comeback got to me as well a little bit, how much I have to push on every point, try to make things happen. I realised it was not going to be my day. There was nothing I could do.
I started to get really negative and this is not normally how I am. This is not something I’m happy about and proud about, but at the same time, if I look at my 1,500 matches I’ve played, these things happen. The good thing is that I know it will not happen the next time around and the next time and the next time.
Federer has always seemed very aware of the difficulty of what he is trying to achieve with his comeback. Even last month he spoke of his “limitations” after losing to Pablo Andujar in Geneva, and after this loss in Halle he acknowledged he is facing a “huge challenge”. “Anyone who has had multiple surgeries or a difficult surgery knows what I'm talking about.” Federer only needs to look to Andy Murray – who was
– to see how difficult the road back is. Murray has been trying to get back to the top for two years after surgeries and he has not come close to challenging for a Grand Slam as Federer is hoping to do at Wimbledon.
So what now for Federer with just over 11 days before Wimbledon starts?
“I need to take every match as information I need to figure it out. I need to understand why it’s going on. It’s important for me to take the right decisions moving forward for Wimbledon and for the rest of the season because this type of third set I cannot accept. The first two are totally okay, no problem there…The third set, I was unhappy about how it ended.”
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Federer is not currently entered into another event before Wimbledon, although is there a chance he will try and join Dominic Thiem and Daniil Medvedev in Mallorca? Having played just eight matches this year, some more time on court could be beneficial.
Most likely Federer will head straight to SW19 and look to get accustomed to conditions there as he aims to win his 21st Grand Slam title. With his grass-court pedigree and experience he will likely start as favourite against most opponents at Wimbledon, but it’s clear that after so long out there is still much work for him to do if he is going to challenge for silverware again.
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