Federer sends out signal of intent to return to contender conversation

The 20-time Grand Slam champion played his first competitive match in 14 months at the Qatar Open.

Roger Federer Australian Open 2020©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

To the delight of millions of fans worldwide, Roger Federer is back.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion has sent out a defiant message in the Middle East. The Swiss maestro has gone through the rigours of rehab once again, intent on returning to the very top.

Cast your mind back to 2016 and Federer had six months off to have left knee surgery. The 2017 comeback was simply scintillating with two Grand Slams slotted into the trophy cabinet. 

He’s got the blueprint, but four years on the current world No.6 is edging towards his 40th birthday following 14 months out.

Within that time Federer had initial arthroscopic surgery on his right knee last February, then complications led to a second operation in June.

"The story is not over yet..."

The odds are leaning against him, but Federer is fighting on.

“I just feel like the story is not over yet,” declared the Swiss on media duties at the Qatar Open, last seen on Tour in an injury-impeded Australian Open 2020 semi-final defeat at the hands of Novak Djokovic

"Retirement was never really on the cards… Probably one of the reasons to come back is that I would like to get that high again of playing against the best players, playing at the biggest tournaments, winning them hopefully, and being in the conversation."

During his absence, Rafael Nadal ruled Roland-Garros to match his haul of 20 majors, whilst Djokovic closed the gap on 18 last month in Melbourne

The ‘big three’ race to end with the most Grand Slams is red hot.

“What Novak and Rafa have done, as of late, is extraordinary. They are not 25 either,” stated the 103-time titlist.

“They seem at their peak which is great for tennis and it is great for the debate. My concern is more my own game, my own health over the record, to be honest.

"I am in a different situation but sure, you like to keep every record. But all the records are there to be broken. The guys are unreal, we all know that. I hope they keep on going. I hope they can do everything they possibly want and that they look back with no regrets… We want to leave the game with no regrets and I think, from that standpoint, we all sleep very well at night.”

Even before his 14-month hiatus Federer had retirement questions sprinkled into his press conferences. 

However, the competitive spirit still courses through his veins and the 39-year-old feels such a break can prolong his playing days.

“I’ve played almost 1,500 matches… breaks are always welcome. I do believe what you miss through injuries, you can add to the back end of your career,” added Federer, relishing his return. “I have missed the Tour. I have missed the second family, how I call the Tour.”

The former world No.1 has jetted to Doha to rejoin the tennis family, where he has lifted the title on three occasions (2005-6, 2011). Courtesy of a bye, the 39-year-old is presented with a tough second round encounter with either Brit Dan Evans or Frenchman Jeremy Chardy

For Federer, it’s a cautious return. 

“However this tournament will play out, I will be happy leaving the court because I will have played a tournament again.

"Expectations are really low, but I hope I can surprise myself and maybe others. I know that people will think that the measuring stick will only be titles, trophies, finals and semi-finals and I am happy that people think of me that way but, honestly, the expectations are in a completely different place for me.”

The Roland-Garros 2009 champion stated he’s “pain free” on court, but realises it might be a long process to regain his peak powers.

“At this moment, let’s see how matches go. It is still building up to being stronger, better, fitter, faster and all that stuff,” continued the world No.6.

“I might surprise myself. I actually already have done in practice the past three weeks. I was surprised with how well it actually did go. But we know matches are a different animal, so right now I just take it day by day.

“It is exciting to be back, seeing all the players again… I am looking forward to the start.”