French Open 2019: Unburdened Federer has a free hit on Roland Garros return

By Sports Desk May 25, 2019

Being one of the greatest players in the history of tennis brings with it consistently high expectations.

Roger Federer's 20 major titles are unparalleled in the men's game, as are his cumulative 310 weeks spent at the top of the rankings – 237 of which came in succession from February 2, 2004 until August 17, 2008.

The Swiss, now 37 and wise to the impact the rigours of the Tour has on his ageing body, has managed his schedule in recent seasons to enable him to continue competing at the extraordinary levels he set after winning his first grand slam 16 years ago.

He branded taking part at Roland Garros in 2016 an "unnecessary fitness risk" as he struggled with knee and back problems and, never hiding his preference for grass and hard courts, he has not returned until now.

His decision to skip the clay-court swing in 2017 paid dividends in the form of a record eighth Wimbledon title, but after a surprise fourth-round loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas at this year's Australian Open Federer confirmed he would finally be back playing on clay.

"I'm in a phase where I want to have fun. It's a bit of desire. I don't feel it is necessary to have a big break again," said Federer at Melbourne Park.

Fun is exactly what Federer can have at the French Open this year.

Rafael Nadal's dominance of the tournament – the 'King of Clay' is gunning for his 12th title at Roland Garros this year – and Novak Djokovic's incredible resurgence, which could see him hold all four grand slams at the same time for the second time in his career, means they are the overwhelming favourites for success.

For once, Federer, who returns on the 10-year anniversary of the first and only time he got his hands on La Coupe des Mousquetaires, goes into a major without the pressure to succeed that typically accompanies an all-time great.

Clay-court specialist Dominic Thiem and Tsitsipas are favoured more than Federer - who is in the same side of the draw as Nadal - by many bookmakers, while Alexander Zverev is considered to have a similar chance of success as the Swiss.

His odds were unlikely to be helped by a right leg injury that forced him to withdraw from an Internazionali d'Italia quarter-final against Tsitsipas, but Federer had to play two matches in a day 24 hours prior, the second of which went to a third-set tie-break against Borna Coric.

Asked if he can win the French Open, Federer replied: "I don't know. [It's] a bit of a question mark for me. In some ways I feel similar to the Australian Open in 2017 - a bit of the unknown.

"I feel like I'm playing good tennis, but is it enough or is it enough against the absolute top guys when it really comes to the crunch? I'm not sure if it's in my racket.

"But I hope I can get myself in that position deep down in the tournament against the top guys."

On his condition, he added: "Being healthy is really key at this stage of my career, and the last time I have been really badly injured has been basically Montreal two years ago almost.

"I'm very happy [with] how my body has been. There has always been little things going on, like in Rome, but that was also precautionary. I wanted to make sure I was 100 per cent going to be able to play the French Open."

While another icon of the sport Serena Williams continues to struggle with the stresses of matching Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 grand slam titles, Federer arrives at Roland Garros in an environment where he has no such burdens to contend with.

The stage is set for Federer to play with freedom and in an impressive physical state. Regardless of the outcome, his desire for fun will no doubt be satisfied in Paris.

Related items

  • Madrid? PSG? Juventus? Where could wantaway Pogba end up? Madrid? PSG? Juventus? Where could wantaway Pogba end up?

    Paul Pogba's tempestuous second stint at Manchester United will end this close season if the France midfielder has his way.

    Speaking over the weekend, Pogba stated it was time for a "new challenge", having been linked with a big-money move away from Old Trafford for several months.

    The 26-year-old was the most expensive player in football history when he re-joined United from Juventus for £89.3million in 2016.

    Despite scoring 31 goals in all competitions over the course of three seasons, Pogba's failure to consistently hit top form for a sustained period has invited regular criticism, while the collapse of his relationship with Jose Mourinho was an unseemly factor towards the end of the Portuguese's ill-fated reign as manager.

    Nevertheless, United are reportedly in no hurry to sell and a £150m price tag means only a small selection of the game's elite can consider a move for Pogba. We look at where the 2018 World Cup winner might end up next.

    Real Madrid

    The Santiago Bernabeu has long been mooted as Pogba's next destination and the appeal of him linking up with France great and Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane is an obvious one. Following an underwhelming campaign, club president Florentino Perez has bankrolled a considerable overhaul for Zidane, with Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic, Ferland Mendy, Eder Militao and Rodrygo all arriving at considerable expense. The coffers are not bottomless and the question is whether Pogba, after his mixed recent seasons, remains the most appealing use of Madrid's remaining funds.

    Paris Saint-Germain

    Indeed, glances have probably been turned from the Spanish capital and towards the French one by Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi saying star forwards Neymar and Kylian Mbappe – along with the rest of the squad – must "work more", adding: "I no longer want to have superstar behaviour," in an interview with France Football. Pogba's detractors would argue such a policy change might rule him out, but PSG are light in central midfield and Al-Khelaifi will be aware of the commercial bounty to be made from bringing one of Les Bleus' 2018 heroes back to his home city. Links between PSG and Ajax defender Matthijs de Ligt also suggest the lines of communication between the club and Pogba's agent Mino Raiola are open.

    Juventus

    Pogba's standing in the eyes of the United faithful has dwindled over recent months and he must long for the esteem in which he was once held in Turin. Four Scudetti in as many seasons preceded his second act in Manchester, although those did come in a talent-stacked midfield alongside the likes of Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio. Juve are approaching a new era under Maurizio Sarri and Pogba would be a statement signing to bolster their Champions League ambitions alongside the evergreen Cristiano Ronaldo.

    Barcelona

    Pogba was widely considered to be on Barcelona's radar in the aftermath of Russia 2018, however that ship appears to have sailed. Arthur adapted impressively to life in LaLiga last term and Frenkie de Jong will arrive on the crest of an Ajax wave. On the other hand, recent speculation linking United with an interest in Barca duo Ivan Rakitic and Philippe Coutinho means a lucrative game of musical chairs might not be out of the equation entirely.

  • A first major sweep since 1982? – Woodland's U.S. Open win continues American dominance A first major sweep since 1982? – Woodland's U.S. Open win continues American dominance

    Brooks Koepka's win at the U.S. Open two years ago triggered a period of dominance for both himself and American golfers at majors.

    Gary Woodland secured his first major title at Pebble Beach on Sunday, winning the U.S. Open by three strokes from Koepka.

    It continued what has been a wonderful run for Americans since Koepka's success at Erin Hills.

    Men from the United States have now won nine of the past 10 majors and, if they can lift the Claret Jug at The Open next month, they will sweep all four in a year for the first time since 1982.

    We take a look at the run that started in 2017.

     

    2019 U.S. Open: Gary Woodland

    Woodland impressively claimed his first major title, holding off a surge from Koepka in the fourth round. They were the only two players to shoot four rounds in the 60s and Woodland sealed his win with a 30-foot birdie putt at the last.

    2019 US PGA Championship: Brooks Koepka

    Koepka has dominated this period, winning four majors including back-to-back US PGA and U.S. Open titles. Rounds of 63 and 65 to open at Bethpage Black this year set up a wire-to-wire two-stroke win.

    2019 Masters: Tiger Woods

    Undoubtedly the most unforgettable win of this lot was Woods' 15th major title and first since 2008. Woods secured a one-shot victory, birdies at the 15th and 16th holes closing out a memorable win.

    2018 US PGA Championship: Brooks Koepka

    It was Woodland who led at the halfway mark at Bellerive despite Koepka's second-round seven-under 63. Not even Woods (64 in the final round) could deny Koepka, who fired back-to-back 66s on the weekend to secure the title.

    2018 U.S. Open: Brooks Koepka

    Koepka recovered from an opening 75 at Shinnecock Hills, where he went into the final round in a four-way tie for the lead. Tommy Fleetwood charged home with a 63, but Koepka's two-under 68 was enough for a one-shot win.

    2018 Masters: Patrick Reed

    Reed took control in the second round at Augusta and his only round in the 70s – a 71 on Sunday – was enough to hold off Rickie Fowler. Reed was fourth at the U.S. Open that followed, but has failed to finish in the top 25 in the five majors since.

    2017 US PGA Championship: Justin Thomas

    Thomas claimed his only major title so far at Quail Hollow almost two years ago. The American fired rounds of 69 and 68 on the weekend to edge out last year's Open champion Francesco Molinari, Louis Oosthuizen and Reed.

    2017 Open Championship: Jordan Spieth

    Spieth was in control early at Royal Birkdale on his way to a third major title. However, a three-shot overnight lead disappeared in the final round before he produced an incredible birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie run beginning at 14 to earn a three-shot win over Matt Kuchar.

    2017 U.S. Open: Brooks Koepka

    The start of Koepka's run was in Wisconsin. He tied the U.S. Open record by reaching 16 under, which was enough for a four-stroke victory over third-round leader Brian Harman and Hideki Matsuyama.

  • Andy Murray 'still has the touch' after 'life-changing' surgery Andy Murray 'still has the touch' after 'life-changing' surgery

    Feliciano Lopez believes it is evident Andy Murray still possesses the talent that made him one of the world's best despite the hip resurfacing surgery the two-time Wimbledon champion described as "life-changing".

    Murray will play for the first time since the Australian Open when he lines up alongside Lopez in the doubles at Queen's Club.

    The duo will face top seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah in their opener and Lopez has been encouraged by practice hits with the now pain-free Briton.

    "He's a great player," Lopez said of Murray, a three-time grand slam winner. "As soon as you hit a few balls with him, you realise he still has the feel and the touch.

    "You don't lose these abilities from one day to another. Of course, he's one of the greatest players ever and he's still playing great."

    Murray has spoken of an intention to return to the singles court in the future, having suggested he would retire during an emotional media conference at the Australian Open earlier this year.

    But the 32-year-old is just enjoying the prospect of getting back in action for now.

    "I feel pretty relaxed. I didn't expect to be in this position," he said. "I didn't know how I was going to feel, really, if I went and had the operation.

    "But it's been brilliant, completely life-changing for me from where I was.

    "I'm looking forward to getting back out there but I also don't know what to expect and I'm not putting any expectations on myself because just being out on the tennis court again and being comfortable and pain free is enough."

© 2018 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.