In the past, success for Roger Federer would require him to be lifting the trophy at the end of the tournament. But times have changed.
While silverware will be on his mind later this summer as he looks to win his 21st Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, Federer, 39, is entering the French Open next week with a realistic outlook.
He has only played three matches this year after undergoing two knee operations in 2020 and missing almost all of last season. His latest outing – his only match on clay in the lead-up to Roland Garros – was a three-set defeat to Pablo Andujar at the Geneva Open.
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"I think when you've played so little and you know where your level is at, how can I think of winning the French Open?" he said after the loss to the world No 68.
So the moment you know you are not going to win the French Open it can't be your goal, at least at my level. I'm just realistic that I know I will not win the French and whoever thought I could or would win it is wrong."
Federer’s only appearance at the French Open in the last five years was in 2019 when he made the semi-finals. He has opted to cut Paris from his schedule recently to focus on the grass season, but this year hopes to build match fitness at the Grand Slam as he prepares for his “huge goal” of winning Wimbledon.
“I hope that it’s going to help me for the grass,” Federer said about playing on clay. “And I’m convinced that hitting a lot of balls, you have to really power through the ball on clay because otherwise you’re not going to have an impact on this surface, is going to be beneficial for me for the grass-court season.”
But what would success at the French Open look like for the Swiss icon? He has a tricky-looking draw as he starts with a qualifier and then could meet Marin Cilic in round two, Taylor Fritz in the third round, Matteo Berrettini in the last 16, and then Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals. Rafael Nadal would be a potential semi-final opponent.
Eurosport pundit Alex Corretja believes reaching the quarter-finals would be an “amazing result” for Federer, who won the tournament in 2009 and reached the final on four other occasions.
“If I was Roger, I would go step by step but reaching quarters would be a major result because that would give him the rhythm he needs to get on grass and get used to situations like break points, different places to return and get his forehand and backhand where he wants it," former French Open finalist Corretja told Tennishead.
“That will give Federer four or five matches, not five sets every match, but three sets one day four sets some days and maybe one five setter that he comes through to give him a good feeling before he gets on grass.
“I think reaching the second week and the quarters that would be a great result.”
If Federer does reach the second week that would rule him out of starting his grass season at the Stuttgart Open or joining Andy Murray at the Nottingham Open, with both starting on June 6 after the French Open was delayed by a week. However, he seems unlikely to enter either tournament even if he does lose early in Paris and will likely instead head to Halle in Germany as his preferred warm-up event before Wimbledon.
Two-time French Open champion Jim Courier thinks there will be “a lot to glean” from Federer’s performance at the French Open.

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"The movement, how is he holding up in the corners. Is he able to get to the shots as easily and effortlessly as he did in the past. What do those two knee surgeries do?" he told Tennis Now.
"Maybe best-of-five will give us a little bit more data to look at than best-of-three as he fatigues in a match, which everyone does. How does he hold up? Then how does he bounce back. I think there will be a lot to glean."
The last time Federer played a five-set match was in January 2020 when he made it to the semi-finals of the Australian Open. Since his return he has played three three-set matches and has spoken about the need to find his “rhythm” and “start taking better decisions”.

Federer

Image credit: Eurosport

Courier thinks it could be important for Federer to get a few wins and remember how to close out matches, having failed to do so against Andujar when he was 4-2 up in the third set.
“You hope along the way he settles into being able to close out matches like he always has, which is challenging in his last match on the clay the other week. He talked openly about that. That's something that even the great ones have to kind of remember how to do it.

"I would imagine he'll figure that piece out between now and Wimbledon. That's the big lens for him. That's I think the lens that I'm going to be looking at, is how does this point him directionally for Wimbledon."
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