11 months away from the fields are a heavy boulder even for Roger Federer, perhaps the greatest tennis player of all times. The 39-year-old Swiss hasn't played an official match since the 2020 Australian Open semi-final, when he surrendered in three sets to future champion Novak Djokovic.
Few imagined that the Basel champion would undergo two operations on his right knee and would not play a match for the rest of the season. The complex situation linked to the global pandemic affected the decision of the 20-time Grand Slam champion, who - as had already happened in 2016/2017 - did not want to force recovery times to return to top form.
The former world number 1 is expected to return to the Australian Open, which could be postponed for a couple of weeks to allow players to travel to Australia and undergo mandatory quarantine. In a recent interview, former French player Paul-Henri Mathieu illustrated how Federer’s return will be a mystery, and that not even the Swiss know what to expect from the future.
Mathieu on Roger Federer's return
Paul-Henri Mathieu explained that given his age, Roger Federer will only be able to assess his chances of returning to the top after he actually starts playing. "Honestly for Roger Federer, I find it hard to believe that is an advantage," Mathieu said.
"We don't know how he will recover. In all fairness, I think he himself, deep down, doesn't know. When you stop for a long time, especially at that age, you don't know how you're going to feel when you go back to it."
The Frenchman, who never defeated Federer in seven career meetings, believes that coming back after such a long layoff will be complicated for the 20-time Grand Slam champion - even with his aggressive style of play. "Even though Roger Federer has a style of play whereby he can shorten exchanges, over the duration of an entire tournament, in 5 sets, it seems super complicated," Mathieu added.
Rafael Nadal has won the French Open a record 13 times, and he proved his clay court superiority once again at this year's event. "For Rafa on clay, this 5-set format is still an advantage. He is the one who masters the game so much that he tires less than his opponent.
And that leaves him a greater margin of error than on a Best of three sets. He can lose a set and make up for it. The longer the match, the greater his margin," Mathieu stated.