Roger Federer facing make-or-break few months as return hangs in the balance

Roger Federer facing make or break few months with return in the balance - Reuters
Roger Federer facing make or break few months with return in the balance - Reuters

Roger Federer has said he should know by May whether he could return to tennis after revealing he was still not allowed to run following triple knee surgery.

Federer announced plans to resume intense exercise this month, admitting being able to do so would make or break his hopes of a comeback at the age of 40.

The Swiss has spent the best part of two years on the sidelines, during which time he watched Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic equal his record of grand slam triumphs, with the former then moving clear on Sunday courtesy of an epic Australian Open victory.

“I have, I think, very interesting and important next months ahead of me,” said Federer in an interview with sponsor Credit Suisse.

“Until now, I wasn’t really allowed to run yet and do the heavy workloads with jumps and stop and goes. So I hope that that’s all going to start hopefully in a couple of weeks. And then we’ll see how the body will react to that. And that’s obviously what I need to return to the tennis court. So I think this question is better answered maybe by April/May.

“But for now, of course, the drive is there. I’m really motivated to do my work, what I’m allowed to do.

“So, it’s still good times even though it’s a little bit slow, because I would love to do way more. But the doctors and everybody’s holding me back a little bit.”

Federer, who had been among the first to congratulate Nadal for winning on Sunday, said he had “no problem” with his great friend and rival breaking a record he himself had held since 2009 and last extended in 2018.

“I’m the first guy to be happy for anybody who breaks any record, because I know how hard it is to do,” he said.

Federer said he watched the Sunday’s final at home but not all five hours and 24 minutes thanks to his four children.

“The match took too long, and I’ve got too many children so I couldn’t watch every point, but I tuned in for the very end and it was nice to see the emotions.

“It gets you all emotional to see such an incredible hard-fought victory.”

Nadal's win in Melbourne will have motivated Federer

By Molly McElwee

Federer's latest injury update, just days after Nadal overtook him to become the most-decorated male player of all time, suggests his “greatest rival” on the court has given him some inspiration in his long road to a comeback.

Rafael Nadal (left) and Roger Federer - Roger Federer facing make-or-break few months with return in the balance - GETTY IMAGES
Rafael Nadal (left) and Roger Federer - Roger Federer facing make-or-break few months with return in the balance - GETTY IMAGES

After three knee surgeries over the past two years, and reaching a milestone 40th birthday last summer, many continue to doubt Federer's ability to relaunch himself to the top of men's tennis. But, as has been the case throughout his career, having Nadal to push him may be just the trick to get him back on the court – if his body allows.

In his message of congratulations to the Spaniard, upon winning a record 21st grand slam title in a remarkable Australian Open final on Sunday, Federer noted how they had both been nursing injuries together last year. “A few months ago we were joking about both being on crutches,” Federer said in the message, posted to social media. “Amazing. Never underestimate a great champion. Your incredible work ethic, dedication and fighting spirit are an inspiration to me and countless others around the world.”

It is worth noting that Nadal is five years Federer's junior, but seeing him excel in the way he did in Melbourne – after doubting his ability to even be on the court at all – will have been a source of motivation for the similarly injury-hampered Federer.

It definitely seems to have changed his tune. Though he warned late last year that he would not likely return to the grass courts at Wimbledon in 2022, he now says he could have a better idea of things come April time.

His comments on Wednesday showed a tentative optimism. Though it will depend on how his body reacts, and how much leeway his medical team allow, the idea he could play in the first half of this season will be welcome news to all of his fans who are hoping for at least one more glimpse of the eight-time Wimbledon champion at SW19.

The race to collect the most major titles will likely be less of a concern at this stage, with 34-year-old Novak Djokovic still the favourite to take the overall lead by the time all of the 'Big Three' are finally retired.

Also, Federer is currently ranked 30th in the world due to his time off the circuit – his lowest rank in over 20 years – and will suffer similar difficulties as Andy Murray has in his return to the court, as tournament draws are less kind to those rebuilding after injury. But even coming back at all at this stage will be somewhat of a miracle. Nadal's dramatic run to another title, through what appeared to be sheer mental fortitude as he dragged his body over the line, could be the new hope Federer was looking for.