Defending champion Novak Djokovic has revealed he will not play in the Madrid Open next week.

The world number one on Wednesday announced he will not take his place in the draw at the Caja Magica, where he won the title for a third time two years ago by beating Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final.

Djokovic suffered a shock defeat to Aslan Karatsev in the semi-finals of the Serbia Open on home soil last week and the 18-time grand slam champion will not be adding to his list of honours in Madrid.

He stated: "Sorry that I won’t be able to travel to Madrid this year and meet all my fans.

"It's been two years already, quite a long time. Hope to see you all next year!"

Djokovic has won 12 times and been beaten twice this season, claiming a ninth Australian Open crown in February.

The Madrid Open was not staged last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

World number one Novak Djokovic was full of praise for his Serbia Open semi-final conqueror Aslan Karatsev but bemoaned his own "low level" performance.

Karatsev got past Djokovic in the longest match of the 2021 ATP Tour in Belgrade, triumphing 7-5 4-6 6-4 on Saturday.

The match went for three hours and 25 minutes, with the Russian securing a spot in Sunday's final against 10th ranked Matteo Berrettini.

The Serbian had beaten Karatsev in the Australian Open semi-finals two months ago, with the 27-year-old Russian, who is now ranked 28th, returning the favour.

"From my side, I played on quite a low level, in my opinion," Djokovic said.

“[I had] some flashes of good quality tennis. I was fighting. That is a positive.

"I was really trying all the way [and] the crowd was great. They carried me and tried to lift me up, all the way to the end.

"Because of them, I think I won the second set. Unfortunately in the third, he was just the better player in the decisive moments. I had my chances, but that is sport."

Djokovic was gracious in defeat, offering a thumbs up immediately after Karatsev secured victory along with complimentary words to his opponent who saved 23 of 28 break points.

"Karatsev showed a lot of courage and that is why I gave him the thumbs up," Djokovic said.

"I felt like he deserved to win… Once the final point is done, there is never bad blood. We are rivals on the court, but I don’t hate anybody. I can’t be upset with him if he beat me.

"I have to be upset with myself and question why I lost the match. Whoever beats me deserves the credit and I gave him that.

"I lost to a better player who was just more courageous. He went for his shots at the right time and it worked for him."

Aslan Karatsev secured a stunning career-best victory over home favourite Novak Djokovic to set up a Serbia Open final against Matteo Berrettini.

Karatsev showed astonishing defiance to beat the world number one 7-5 4-6 6-4 in the longest ATP Tour match of the year on Saturday.

The third seed from Russia saved 23 of the 28 break points he faced as his aggressive approach paid off, toppling the 18-time grand slam champion in a contest that lasted three hours and 25 minutes.

It was sweet revenge for Karatsev, who was beaten by the legendary Serbian at the semi-final stage of the Australian Open two months ago.

Djokovic had won 11 matches in a row in his homeland, but bowed out despite being 2-0 up in the first two sets as a solitary break in the decider ended his run.

Karatsev, the world number 28, said: "It was a long, tough match [against a] tough opponent.

"You have to put [in] like 200 per cent to beat this guy, it's like playing against a wall. And he also made some good shots.

"He doesn't give you any free points. He always makes you play and you have to be always there because once you miss a couple of shots, he just takes it very quickly. That’s how I lost the second set."

Berrettini secured his place in the final with a 6-1 6-7 (5-7) 6-0 victory over lucky loser Taro Daniel.

Second seed Berrettini only lost six points in the last set after Daniel came from a break down in the second before winning a tie-break to take the second semi-final the distance.

Heading into Sunday's final, Karatsev and Berrettini have never previously faced each other on the ATP Tour.

 

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal each continued to advance in ATP Tour tournaments in their home countries on Friday.

Djokovic reached the semi-finals of the Serbia Open with a 6-1 6-3 defeat of fellow home hopeful Miomir Kecmanovic.

The world number one has looked at ease this week, after his return to action last week for the first time since the Australian Open saw a shock defeat to Dan Evans in Monte Carlo.

Djokovic will face Aslan Karatsev in the last four after the Russian saw off Gianluca Mager with a confident 6-3 6-4 win.

"I'm feeling very well on court, moving well, hitting the ball well and, of course, enjoying the home-court advantage," Djokovic said.

"So, I'm really excited to go out in the semi-finals on the court again tomorrow."

Having beaten Kecmanovic, who he said "has the potential to go far", Djokovic is the last remaining Serbian in the competition after Matteo Berrettini beat Filip Krajinovic.

Nadal, Djokovic's great rival, has also returned to form after dropping sets in consecutive matches earlier in the week.

His Barcelona Open progress was secured with a swift 6-1 6-4 quarter-final win over Cameron Norrie on Pista Rafa Nadal.

Nadal next takes on Pablo Carreno Busta after his 6-4 3-6 7-5 win over Diego Schwartzman, while second seed Stefanos Tsitsipas went through on the other side of the draw after a 6-3 6-3 win against Felix Auger-Aliassime.

The semi-final opponent for Monte Carlo champion Tsitsipas will be the impressive teenager Jannik Sinner, though, rather than world number seven Andrey Rublev.

The 19-year-old Miami Open finalist won in straight sets against Rublev, breezing through the opener 6-2 and then fighting to see out the second 7-6 (8-6), saving a set point with the first of three consecutive points that sealed the match.

Novak Djokovic thought he was "pretty flawless" in his first match of the Serbia Open, but Rafael Nadal was given a scare in his clash with qualifier Ilya Ivashka at the Barcelona Open.

World number one Djokovic suffered a shock third-round exit to Dan Evans at the Monte Carlo Masters last week but ruthlessly dispatched Kwon Soon-woo 6-1 6-3 in his home city of Belgrade.

Djokovic broke his opponent five times to set up a meeting with eighth seed and fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic, who battled past qualifier Arthur Rinderknech in three sets, in the quarter-finals.

"I thought it was a pretty flawless performance," Djokovic said. "I moved well, I was mixing up the pace quite well, making him play. I served well in the important moments, [and] overall I just felt great."

On playing in front of his family and friends, the two-time Serbia Open champion added: "It gives you an extra push, an extra motivation, energy to really give your best and leave it all out on the court.

"I think also that made me feel comfortable and confident on the court and I played really good. I'm really pleased with the quality of tennis."

Second seed Matteo Berrettini defeated fellow Italian Marco Cecchinato 6-4 6-3 and will face either Filip Krajinovic or Nikola Milojevic in the last eight of the clay-court tournament.

Over in Barcelona, Nadal – an 11-time champion at the event – was out to make a statement after a rare defeat on the dirt to Andrey Rublev in Monte Carlo.

But the 'King of Clay' needed two hours and 20 minutes to fight back against the unheralded Ivashka 3-6 6-2 6-4 to reach the round of 16, where he will face Kei Nishikori. Nadal is now 62-4 at a tournament where he once won 41 straight matches.

Second seed and Monte Carlo champion Stefanos Tsitsipas hammered Jaume Munar 6-0 6-2, while third seed Rublev - runner-up to the Greek on Sunday - joined Pablo Carreno Busta (6) and Alex De Minaur (14) in making it through.

Evans was unable to follow up his run in Monte Carlo with the 16th seed beaten by Corentin Moutet in a lengthy three-setter, while Fabio Fognini (9) was defaulted for unsportsmanlike conduct after verbally abusing a line official when trailing 6-4 4-4 to Spanish qualifier Bernabe Zapata Miralles.

Jannik Sinner set up a clash with Roberto Bautista Agut at the Barcelona Open as he vowed to keep making progress after cracking the top 20 for the first time.

Italian 19-year-old Sinner is a fast-rising new star of the men's game and now has a ranking to match his age. However, he was put in his place by Novak Djokovic last week in Monte Carlo, before the world number one was himself dealt a jolting defeat by Dan Evans.

Sinner sped past Belarusian Egor Gerasimov in the first round in Barcelona on Tuesday, winning 6-3 6-2, and it will be wily world number 11 Bautista Agut who stands in his way of going deeper into the tournament.

In two meetings on hard courts this season, Sinner has edged out 33-year-old Spaniard Bautista Agut in tight deciding sets, and now they face a reunion on clay.

"He lost in Dubai against me, he lost in Miami against me, now we play once more here, so it's quite a small period of time," said Sinner.

"We're playing now our third match already, so it's going to be a very tough match. He is very, very solid. I never played against him on clay. I'm trying to be ready in the best possible way."

Bautista Agut barged past fellow Spanish player Pablo Andujar, scoring a 6-4 6-0 win.

Sinner was proud to enter the ATP top 20 this week but sees it as just a step on his journey, saying: "Obviously it's a good number, but for me at the moment not that important."

He added, quoted on the ATP website: "[I'm] just trying to improve day after day with my team and trying to improve as a player and the ranking is what it is. I'm happy to be top 20 player but the road is long so a lot of work to do."

Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Lorenzo Musetti and Frances Tiafoe, who fought off 17-year-old Spanish prospect Carlos Alcaraz, were also among Tuesday's winners in Barcelona.

Star turn Djokovic begins his campaign at the Serbia Open on Wednesday when he tackles Kwon Soon-woo, with the 18-time grand slam winner having received a first-round bye.

Tuesday's play in Belgrade saw wins for, among others, Federico Delbonis, Aljaz Bedene and Miomir Kecmanovic.

Novak Djokovic admitted he played an "awful" match against Dan Evans at the Monte Carlo Masters as Rafael Nadal advanced with ease to the quarter-finals.

World number one Djokovic, playing in his first tournament since winning a ninth Australian Open in February, suffered his first defeat of 2021 on Thursday.

Evans, who had never before reached the last eight of a Masters 1000 tournament, won 6-4 7-5 with a performance that belied his relative lack of success on clay.

The 30-year-old Briton will now meet David Goffin, who surprised fifth seed Alexander Zverev 6-4 7-6 (9-7).

"To be honest, this has been probably one of the worst matches and performances from my side I can recall in the last years," said Djokovic. "I don't want to take anything away from his win, but from my side, I just felt awful on the court overall. Just nothing worked. It's one of those days."

Saying he felt "completely the opposite" to Wednesday's win over Jannik Sinner, Djokovic added: "Just was obviously very, very windy, tough to play in these kinds of conditions against a guy like Evans who makes you move. He's very unpredictable with his shots. He dismantled my game."

Eleven-time Monte Carlo champion Nadal had no such problems in his match as he dismissed Grigor Dimitrov 6-1 6-1 in 55 minutes.

Nadal, who boasts a 14-1 career record against the Bulgarian, did not face a break point in either set against his off-colour opponent.

Dimitrov started the match with three double faults in his opening service game and was 4-0 down in each set.

"[I am] sorry for him. He played a bad match. That is the truth," said Spaniard Nadal. "He made a lot of mistakes. I was there. I was doing the right thing, but it is true that today was more his fault than my good tennis."

Nadal will face Andrey Rublev after the Russian battled past Roberto Bautista-Agut 7-6 (7-2) 5-7 6-3.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, who beat Cristian Garin 6-3 6-4, will face Alejandro Davidovich Fokina next, while Fabio Fognini's straight-sets win over Filip Krajinovic set up a meeting with Casper Ruud.

Dan Evans produced a stunning victory over Novak Djokovic at the Monte Carlo Masters, revealing the world number one had irritated him before the match even began.

A 6-4 7-5 victory for 33rd-ranked Evans in his first career clash with Djokovic carried the Briton through to his first Masters 1000 quarter-final and inflicted a first defeat of 2021 on his opponent.

The seeds of the upset were planted before the players hit the court, Evans later revealed, with the 30-year-old having been irked at having to wait for Djokovic in the locker room.

Top seed Djokovic was playing his first tournament since winning the Australian Open in February, for his 18th grand slam title, and he found it tough against a player who has previously enjoyed little success on clay.

"I thought I did a good job to get out of my service games. He had so many break points but didn't take them, so I was a little lucky there," Evans told Amazon Prime.

"I ran around the first second serve I got, to tell him I'm not going to just stand back and rally, I'm going to try to hit his second serve a little, and I got a few doubles out there."

Djokovic served four double faults, with Evans setting the tone for the match by surging 3-0 ahead early in the opening set.

"He kept me waiting at the start of the match in the changing rooms a little bit, so it was a little annoying," Evans said. "I was ready to go from that, so that got me a little extra fired up."

Rather than being intimidated by the presence of Djokovic on the other side of the net, Evans indicated he treated the Serbian like just another opponent, there to be beaten.

"That's why we roll the balls out, it's one against one and we've got to see who wins," Evans said.

"He gave me some cheap ones today which he never normally does, so I was a little lucky there, but I'm just really happy with coming through."

Evans' win was hailed by former British number one Tim Henman, who said: "He played fantastic tennis. In difficult conditions, he was the one that really dealt with it so well.

"Those first three games where he got up a double break, that probably changed his mindset. It increased his belief and Djokovic was frustrated, but in so many critical moments it was Evans who came up with the great tennis.

"It's an unbelievable achievement. Evans has won so few matches on clay so to beat the world number one, it's an amazing win."

Rafael Nadal's bid to win a 12th Monte Carlo Masters title got off to an emphatic start as the Spaniard swept Federico Delbonis aside after Novak Djokovic had also booked his passage to the third round.

Nadal, 34, has won the competition more times than anyone else in its history and looked in good shape as he returned to the court for the first time since losing to Stefano Tsitsipas in the Australian Open quarter-finals on February 17.

He needed just 81 minutes to get past the Argentinian qualifier 6-1 6-2 as he improved his record in the tournament to 72-5, breaking Delbonis' serve five times and only dropping his own once.

He is not getting carried away, however, with Grigor Dimitrov likely to provide a sterner test in the next round after beating Jeremy Chardy 7-6 (7-3) 6-4.

"It was solid match, I think. Of course, a very positive result. He's a good player on clay. [It was a] positive start for me," Nadal said in his post-match interview.

"I think I just really played a solid match. Nothing unbelievable, but nothing wrong. Just a solid match, a positive start. I think I did what I had to do."

On Dimitrov, Nadal added: "We've had some great matches. In Melbourne, of course... we played another great match in Beijing, another one in Shanghai. He's a good friend, a good guy, and a great player. It's going to be a tough test in my second round.

"It's going to be his third. I need to be ready for it. I hope to be ready for it. I am just excited to play a tough match very early in the tournament."

A little earlier in the day, world number one Djokovic was in a similarly unforgiving mood as he overcame the potentially tricky obstacle of Jannik Sinner, the Serbian and two-time Monte Carlo champion winning 6-4 6-2.

Like Nadal, Djokovic was back in action for the first time since the Australian Open – which he won – and appeared fresh as he gave the promising young Italian something of a lesson in game management, reaching 10 matches unbeaten at the start of a season for the sixth time.

"It feels great [to be back and] also playing in Monaco, where I reside," Djokovic said. "I have used this club as a training base for almost 15 years, so it feels like playing at home."

Despite the rather commanding nature of his win, Djokovic was keen to pay tribute to the 19-year-old Sinner, adding: "It was a very good encounter. I thought it was a great first match [and] a big challenge for me. Jannik is in form. He played the final [in] Miami and has been playing well. I just hung in there today and managed to find the right shots and the right game at the right time.

"He has got a lot of talent and he has proven that he is the future of our sport. Actually, he is already the present of our sport. He played a final [in an] ATP Masters 1000 [tournament] already. He is making big strides in professional tennis."

Dan Evans awaits Djokovic after an impressive 6-4 6-1 win over Miami champion Hubert Hurkacz, while Alexander Zverez and Andrey Rublev – the fifth and sixth seeds – moved into the next round with respective straight-set victories over Lorenzo Sonego and Salvatore Caruso.

There were mixed fortunes for the other two top-10 seeds in action on Wednesday, as Pablo Carreno-Busta defeated Karen Khachanov 6-2 6-3, but Diego Schwartzman was sent packing by Casper Ruud, the Norwegian winning 6-3 6-3.

Novak Djokovic will tackle teenage rising star Jannik Sinner for the first time in a tantalising clash of tennis generations on Wednesday at the Monte Carlo Masters.

World number one Djokovic is returning to action this week, having taken time away from the tour since banking an 18th grand slam title by winning the Australian Open in February.

He received a first-round bye, but waiting for him in the last 32 is Sinner, who on Tuesday saw off 2017 Monte Carlo runner-up Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-3 6-4, again illustrating the 19-year-old Italian's great potential.

World number 22 Sinner is the only teenager ranked inside the top 80 in the men's game and is coming off his first run to a Masters final, at the Miami Open.

The switch from hard courts to clay is one that Sinner is having to deal with, and seeing off a specialist on the surface in round one represents an impressive start, although facing two-time former champion Djokovic will be a step up.

"It's always good for me to see what I can do on clay," Sinner said, quoted on the ATP website. "Obviously, I am not in the best form on clay now for the first week.

"But I think today was a solid match from my side. It was not easy. He's not giving [away] one point, so you have to stay there the whole match. I think I played a good match from my side."

Greek fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas reached the last 16 with a 6-3 6-4 win over Russian Aslan Karatsev, but there was disappointment at the same stage for Italian eighth seed Matteo Berrettini, beaten 7-5 6-3 by Spain's Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. Those were the only second-round matches of the day.

Surprise Miami champion Hubert Hurkacz made a winning start, battling to a 6-3 3-6 6-3 first-round success against Italian qualifier Thomas Fabbiano to reach round two.

Roberto Bautista Agut, Grigor Dimitrov, Pablo Carreno Busta and Fabio Fognini each booked places in round two thanks to straight-sets wins.

Qualifier Federico Delbonis was a 7-5 6-1 victor over France's Adrian Mannarino, meaning the Argentinian faces the ultimate test in clay-court tennis next, a tussle with Rafael Nadal, the 11-time former champion in Monte Carlo.

Nadal has won all four of their previous matches, and their fifth encounter will immediately follow the Djokovic-Sinner match on Wednesday.

World number one Novak Djokovic has joined Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in deciding not to play at the Miami Open, which begins next week.

The Masters 1000 tournament has not been its usual big draw for the leading men this year, and Djokovic becomes the latest high-profile withdrawal.

The 33-year-old Serbian announced he would enjoy some family time rather than travel to the United States, citing the need for balance in his life as coronavirus restrictions affect globe-trotting sports stars.

Miami's total prize fund is said to have been cut from $16.7million in 2019, the last time it was held, to $6.68m this year.

That drastic reduction, reported by the Tennis Majors website, may or may not have been a partial factor in the withdrawals that have dented the top-tier quality in the men's side of the tournament.

The women's event looks like being a full-strength field, while new world number two Daniil Medvedev is set to be the men's top seed, providing he makes the trip.

Djokovic wrote on Twitter: "Dear fans, I'm very sorry to announce that this year I won't travel to Miami to compete.

"I decided to use this precious time at home to stay with my family. With all restrictions, I need to find balance in my time on tour and at home. I look forward to coming back next year!"

Nadal has been bothered by a back problem and cited it earlier this week as the reason for his withdrawal, as he looks to recover full fitness in time for the clay-court season and a crack at winning a 14th French Open title.

The Spaniard's great rival Federer, a fellow 20-time grand slam winner, has only just returned from a year away from the tour after knee surgery, and beat Dan Evans in his first match back at the Qatar Open before losing to Nikoloz Basilashvili.

Federer then elected not to play in Dubai and will not be in Miami, where he is the men's reigning champion, having taken the 2019 title. The 2020 tournament was cancelled because of the COVID-19 crisis.

Novak Djokovic made history after breaking Roger Federer's record for most weeks as world number one on the ATP Tour.

Djokovic surpassed Federer after beginning his 311th week as the number one player in the men's rankings on Monday.

Serbian star Djokovic reclaimed the top ranking from fellow superstar Rafael Nadal in February 2020 and finished as year-ending number one for the sixth time – tying the mark set by Pete Sampras.

Djokovic, who first topped the men's rankings in July 2011, went on to celebrate a record-extending ninth Australian Open title at Melbourne Park in February.

With Federer turning 40 in August and Nadal a year older, the 33-year-old Djokovic has time on his side in pursuit of more history.

Djokovic has won 18 grand slams, two adrift of Federer – who is set to make his long-awaited ATP comeback in Qatar this week – and Nadal.

"I think it's an ultimate challenge to be honest, of course, winning a slam and being in history, the longest-ever number one," Djokovic said in Melbourne last month.

"You can have a great grand slam, a great tournament, a great couple of months, or even a great season but to do it over and over again, to be actually contender for historic number one, you need to play well and have a consistency from January to November, ever single year.

"I've been fortunate to do that and put myself in a position to make history in that regard. I'm very, very proud of that and privileged to be in that position.

"It's also a relief because it has been definitely my main goal, other than winning slams and now that I'll be managing to achieve it, I'll focus myself more on slams and adapt my calendar and schedule because when you're going for number one, you have to play all year and you have to play all the biggest tournaments.

"You can't allow someone else to earn more points than you. It's like a constant pressure, I think, and expectations that you have to deal with. It's definitely fulfilling to achieve that."

Federer now sits sixth in the rankings, having not played competitively since the 2020 Australian Open.

Nadal remains second, though he is set to be leapfrogged by Australian Open runner-up Daniil Medvedev in the next rankings release on March 15.

Russian Medvedev will be the first player, other than Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Andy Murray, ranked in the top two since July 2005.

Daniil Medvedev will climb to number two in the ATP rankings later this month, with his small step signalling that big change is afoot in the men's game.

The leading two positions have been occupied by a combination of the 'Big Four' ever since Rafael Nadal climbed above Lleyton Hewitt to take second place on the ladder on July 25, 2005.

Nadal, Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have all had spells at number one in the years since then, and no other player has had a look-in on those leading two positions.

Within days, however, that is about to change, as the younger generation of players gains a first foothold in the top two.

The ATP, which runs the men's game, said on Saturday that 25-year-old Medvedev is certain to nudge up one place from his current position of world number three when the rankings, are published on March 15.

The Russian is currently on 9,735 points, 115 points behind Nadal, and he has a first-round bye at the Open 13 Marseille next week.

The ATP, tweeted: "With the release of next week's @atptour draws, @DaniilMedwed is confirmed to become World No. 2 in @FedEx ATP Rankings on 15 March. Medvedev will be the 1st player in the Top 2 since 25 July 2005 other than the Big 4 of @DjokerNole, @RafaelNadal, @rogerfederer and @andy_murray."

Medvedev, who won the ATP World Tour Finals title in November and reached the Australian Open final last month, missed an early chance this week to move ahead of Nadal when he lost in the first round of the Rotterdam Open.

Former champion Michael Stich urged tennis stars to "consider themselves lucky" when Wimbledon returns after last year's cancellation.

Prospects of the tournament going ahead in front of London crowds appear suddenly bright, with lockdown restrictions due to be lifted over the coming months.

There may still be restrictions on travel into the United Kingdom from abroad, however, by the time Wimbledon comes around. The fortnight-long tournament is due to begin on June 28, one week after all COVID-19 restrictions on daily life are scheduled to end in England.

Wimbledon has said it is planning for "scenarios of full, reduced and no public capacity", and it may be the ferrying of thousands of players and their support teams to the tournament that proves the greatest logistical headache.

The grass-court major was scrapped last year amid the pandemic, not taking place for the first time since the second World War.

The Australian Open quarantined for 14 days all the tennis players, entourages and officials who arrived in the country ahead of the recent grand slam in Melbourne, which led to some grumbling among tour stars.

Men's champion Novak Djokovic later said many players were reluctant to continue with the season if being confined to a hotel room was going to become the norm.

Stich, who beat fellow German Boris Becker in the 1991 Wimbledon final, says tennis pros should be grateful they have the opportunity to make a living, even if it means making a sacrifice. Given the proximity of the French Open to Wimbledon on the calendar, elite players may face plenty of time cut off from friends and family.

"I still believe that all the players should consider themselves lucky to actually be able to go to work. We do have a lot of sports competitions that do not have this luxury," Stich told Stats Perform News.

"Therefore, five weeks of quarantine might be a high burden for sure, I couldn't imagine that. But still, to actually participate in a tournament and to earn money through playing in that tournament, which is vital for many people these days, is definitely a present.

"We will have to wait and see what will happen to the pandemic and which scenarios we can create to play there. In Europe, the distances are small, so players should think about their travel arrangements.

"If players are, for example, in quarantine [at grass-court tournaments] in Stuttgart or Halle, they can enter the country through a transport method that can exclude themselves from the masses - then it is basically as if they entered a consistent quarantine.

"Maybe then it can become possible. I truly wish that Wimbledon will go ahead for the players and primarily for the fans."

Roger Federer would have the perfect moment to bow out of tennis if he lands a ninth Wimbledon title this year, according to former SW19 hero Michael Stich.

Swiss great Federer has not played on tour for over a year after undergoing knee surgery twice, and Rafael Nadal has matched his tally of grand slam titles during that time.

By winning at the delayed French Open last year, Nadal joined Federer on a record 20 slam titles, with Novak Djokovic just two behind that pair after his Australian Open triumph last week.

At the age of 39, Federer is on the comeback trail and planning to play tournaments in Doha and Dubai in March, building up to Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympics, key goals for what might prove to be his final season on tour.

"It is clear that at some point he will stop," Stich, the 1991 Wimbledon champion, told Stats Perform News.

"Many would have thought that already five years ago. We have no influence on that. I would wish for him to win Wimbledon and say after the final: 'You know what, I had a sick time, I'll stop.'

"There couldn't be anything better and that would give so much to the sport."

Stich believes it is "questionable" whether Federer will be capable of success on that scale, but he sees Wimbledon as his greatest opportunity.

"You should never write him off because he is a player who has a gifted set of skills that help him to still play tennis that good at his age," Stich said.

"He may have the problem that the younger generation no longer has this huge respect for him because he was out for a year. The mental side plays a big role there.

"But especially at Wimbledon he is certainly still a candidate for the title, because there he has this mental strength, because there he has the greatest joy.

"The nice thing is that everyone is looking forward to his comeback and wants to see what happens. He has nothing to lose. He doesn't have to prove anything to himself, he doesn't have to prove anything to the fans out there. He's really doing it because he thinks he can still win titles."

With Nadal and Djokovic winning the last two majors, the prospect of Dominic Thiem's US Open win last September triggering a sea change in the men's game has fallen away.

According to Stich, the likes of Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Daniil Medvedev cannot just wait for the old guard to make way and must instead find a way to disrupt their dominance.

"As a spectator and fan, I naturally wish that the passing of the torch would still happen during the active time of the 'Big Three'," Stich said.

"It's the big goal of all young players that they would like to beat a Roger Federer, a Novak Djokovic, and a Rafael Nadal in a grand slam final. An Andy Murray and a Juan Martin del Potro did it. The only two in what felt like 20 years, and Stan Wawrinka, who is not to be forgotten with three titles.

"It's up to the young generation now and they are no longer 19. They are all 22, 23, 26. Dominic Thiem achieved it at the US Open. One would of course wish that they actively shape this transition, but that is looking into the future."

Stich says he has "no idea when that will happen", but he believes there will be another great generation that emerges, just as tennis moved on from the golden era of Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, and latterly the days when Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi dominated.

"We have a generation in which three players shaped this period extremely," Stich said. "Now is a chance for the others to step into the spotlight. The next generation will follow in their footsteps. I'm not worried about that."

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