Tennis fans have been left devastated after Roger Federer's coach revealed he is almost-certain to miss the Australian Open in January.
Federer is increasingly unlikely to play the Australian Open for the second year in a row, with the Swiss maestro said to be recovering slowly from a third round of knee surgery in 18 months.
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The 20-time grand slam champion played just 13 matches in 2021, and has been sidelined since suffering a straight-sets quarter-final loss to Hubert Hurkacz at Wimbledon in July.
The six-time Open champion's latest four-month lay-off comes after he spent a year on the sidelines following his record-setting 15th semi-final appearance at Melbourne Park in 2020.
"Roger Federer is very unlikely to play the Australian Open," coach Ivan Ljubicic told Sky Sport TV on Sunday.
"He is 40 and doesn't recover as fast as before."
However Ljubicic hosed down speculation that we've seen the last of Federer on the court.
"He wants to compete again and won't retire all of a sudden," he said.
"We will be able to see Roger again next year. I don't know when exactly, but he is undergoing rehabilitation.
"He is recovering slowly, he is not in a hurry."
Nevertheless, fans were shattered to hear they won't be able to see Federer at the Australian Open for the second year running.
Damn!! Does that mean extra adjustments to the @atptour rankings?
— Darksong (@DezsoD) November 14, 2021
Not aus open
— Isabel Bataller (@Isafederer) November 14, 2021
Going by Ljubicic's interview, I don't think Roger Federer is going to play in Australia. https://t.co/wsuMJCWW0g
— Saba S. Sheikh (@sabassheikh) November 14, 2021
— Saga (@SagarikaRamana) November 14, 2021
While @rogerfederer wants AND deserves 2 retire on his own terms after the legendary career he's had😲his rehab is NOT only about🎾w previous surgeries less successful than they SHOULD have been😧it's also about his personal/family life AFTER🎾I'm sure he wants 2 get this right🍀
— Jenica Badaluta (@JenicaBadaluta) November 14, 2021
Hoping that he would participate in Halle and Wimbledon next year 🤞🤞
— RF Fan ❤️ (@Aksriv04) November 14, 2021
On that day, I will be very sad. Roger Federer is, the most BRILLIANT, Tennis Champion !!!!!! 🎾👏👏👏🎾
— Julien Duncan (@julienDuncan1) November 14, 2021
While not a surprise, Federer's expected absence will be a huge blow for Australian Open officials, who had hoped the Big Three of Federer, Rafael Nadal and nine-times champion Novak Djokovic would all be back in Melbourne for at least one last time.
Nadal last week signalled his intention to be in Melbourne after his own injury battles in 2021, while Djokovic's participation remains uncertain.
The World No.1 has yet to commit to another title defence in January after refusing to publicly reveal his vaccination status.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews is adamant only fully vaccinated players - and fans - will be permitted entry to Melbourne Park for the season's first major.
Roger Federer falls outside world's top 10 players
Federer contested a record 21 successive Opens from 2000 to 2020 and boasts a remarkable 102-15 win-loss record at the tournament.
Last month he fell outside the world's top 10 male players for the first time in nearly five years.
A change to the ranking structure during the Covid-19 pandemic had previously kept his position elevated despite his injury-hampered form.
But the 20-time grand slam champion has now tumbled out of the top 10, marking just the 12th week in 19 years that he is outside the world's best 10 players.
It last occurred between November 2016 and January 2017 when he was also injured.
"It was a tough process to take that decision, just because I already had a couple of knee surgeries last year," Federer said in regards to his latest surgery at the Laver Cup.
"I was really unhappy with how things went at Wimbledon. I was just nowhere near where I wanted to be to play at the top, top level.
"But I tried my best and at the end, at some point, too much is too much. Now I've just got to take it step by step.
"I've got to first walk again properly, run properly and then do the sidesteps and all the agility work and then eventually I've got to be back on the tennis court.
"But it's going to take me a few more months and then we'll see how things are at some point next year.
"I've got to take my time. I don't want to rush into anything at this point. This is also for my life. I want to make sure I can do everything I want to do later on.
"There's no rush with anything, so I'm actually in a really good place. I think the worst is behind me. I'm really happy."
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