Tennis fans were gutted when Roger Federer withdrew from the French Open prior to the fourth round – but former great Mats Wilander thinks there might be more to it than first thought.
Federer pulled out of Roland Garros after a tough third round victory over Dominik Koepfer, meaning fans missed out on a potential quarter finals match-up against Novak Djokovic.
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The Swiss star has been easing his way back into form, after returning several weeks ago following a year-long absence due to knee surgery.
The 39-year-old is targeting a record 21st grand slam title at Wimbledon later this month.
“After discussions with my team, I decided that I should withdraw from the French Open today,” Federer said in a statement released by the French Tennis Federation on Sunday.
“After two knee operations and more than a year of rehabilitation, it’s important that I listen to my body and not rush back into competition.”
However, Wilander isn’t buying Federer’s rehabilitation excuse, saying the 20-time Grand Slam champion was also trying to avoid a humiliating loss to Djokovic before Wimbledon.
Despite this, Wilander told Punto de Break that he thought Federer had made the right call.
“Yes, I think [he] made a good decision. I think he would have had options against Berrettini,” Wilander said.
“But of course, then he could have met Djokovic and it could have been that the Serb had defeated him in a resounding way and, before Wimbledon – he did not want that.
“He came to Roland Garros, not with the idea of winning, but with the idea of playing several games. He must have earned more than he expected.
“But of course, what should he have done? Retiring when he had a match point? He has not played Rome, he has not played Madrid. He needed a victory! What he did is fine with me.
“He knew that, playing that long game [against Koepfer], there were options that he could not recover the next day, but he needed to win that game for his confidence.
“To be there, at midnight, on a cold night, with a heavy track, to do that. People have always seen Federer, but not everyone has realised what Federer has inside. He still has that fire inside of him.”
Novak Djokovic primed for his ‘biggest rival’
Novak Djokovic insists the primal screams he unleashed on beating Matteo Berrettini at the French Open were just his way of “liberating the tension” that had been building up inside him like a pressure cooker.
To Rafael Nadal, though, they can only have sounded like a guttural war cry.
For it is obvious the world No.1 is after him, with a manic look in his eyes and utterly focused on achieving what he believes must be the most difficult feat in tennis – becoming the only man ever to beat Nadal twice in his Court Philippe Chatrier kingdom.
Robin Soderling famously knocked out Nadal in 2009, while Djokovic’s only victory over the Spaniard at Roland Garros came six years ago in the quarter-finals.
“And that’s it, actually,” the Serb reminded reporters with a smile this week.
Just two Nadal conquerors in 107 matches stretching back over 16 years. Quite, quite unreal.
“It’s not like any other match,” Djokovic mused, pondering the prospect of a 58th edition of one of sport’s great rivalries in Friday’s semi-finals.
“Let’s face it, it’s the biggest challenge that you can have playing on clay against Nadal on this court in which he has had so much success,” said the Serb.
“In the final stages of a grand slam, it doesn’t get bigger than that.
“When we face each other, there’s that extra tension and expectations. Just vibes are different walking on the court with him.
“But that’s why our rivalry has been historic for this sport.
“I’ll probably pick Rafa as the biggest rival I’ve ever had in my career.”
It inspires the world No.1 that Nadal stands there on the clay almost like the peak he has never been properly able to conquer.
For though the overall head-to-head reads Djokovic 29 Nadal 28, it is 7-1 to Nadal at the French Open and an overwhelming 19-7 to the Spaniard in all clay-court duels.
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