Tennis fans have been left heartbroken after Roger Federer confirmed he will not play the Australian Open and revealed he might not even be ready in time for Wimbledon.
Earlier this week Federer's coach Ivan Ljubicic revealed it was 'highly unlikely' that the Swiss legend would play the Australian Open in January following a third knee surgery earlier this year.
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On Wednesday, Federer confirmed that news while also dropping the bombshell that he would be "extremely surprised" if he was back in time for Wimbledon next July.
The 20-time grand slam champion said he would be able to resume running in January and return to training on the court in March or April.
“I would be incredibly surprised if I were to play again already at Wimbledon,” he Federer said in an interview carried by several Swiss media outlets.
“Australia is not an option at all. But that’s no surprise for me. Even before the operation, we knew that a break of many months would be necessary afterwards.
“I wanted to wait for the first major check-up before making a public statement, and the check-up was very encouraging.
"I have started a long rehabilitation process in which I put all my heart and soul. But the situation is not the same as in 2016. I have to be patient.
"I need to be very patient and give my knee the time to heal. The next few months will be crucial."
Federer is tied on 20 grand slam titles with Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic in the race to become the most successful men's singles champion of all time.
He had two knee operations in 2020 that kept him out of the tour for more than a year and returned to action in March, but played only 13 matches this year.
The Swiss maestro withdrew from the French Open in June after winning his third-round match to save himself for Wimbledon, but fell at the quarter-final stage at the grass court major a month shy of his 40th birthday.
Another injury forced Federer to skip the US Open as he went under the knife again and he said doctors also fixed cartilage in his knee.
"This summer it was decided to suture the lesion to my meniscus, which involves some downtime," he said on Wednesday.
"The doctors took the opportunity to also treat my cartilage. The combination of these two procedures requires patience and caution.
“I had this operation done so that I could ski with my children or play football or tennis in the future.
“My primary motivation was to get back in shape for my normal life. But I wanted to approach this rehabilitation with the mentality and body of a top athlete.”
Roger Federer opens up on looming retirement
Federer has not won a grand slam since clinching the Australian Open title in 2018, but the Swiss veteran said he is still holding out for a 'miracle'.
"My life is not going to collapse if I don't play a grand slam final again," he added.
"But it would be the ultimate dream to go back. And in fact, I still believe in it. I believe in these kinds of miracles.
“I want to see once again what I can achieve as a tennis pro.
“I’m fighting for it and I’m very motivated. I feel the support of my team and my family. We all wish that I can say goodbye on my own terms and on a court.
“I have experienced similar challenges many times in my career. Sometimes without the public being aware of it.
"And even though I know that the end is near, I want to try to play some big matches again. It won’t be easy, but I will try.”
The 40-year-old also addressed his looming retirement, saying: “I think that every athlete should decide for himself. There is no right time to retire.
"There is only the time that suits each individual athlete. It is a very personal decision.
“I understand the fans’ feelings. It would be easy for me to say, ‘I’ve given a lot and received a lot. Let’s stop here’.
"But me investing everything to come back is also my way of saying thank you. My fans deserve better than the image of my last grass season."
Reacting to the news at the ATP Finals in Italy, Djokovic said he hoped Federer will make it back.
“Obviously Roger is an icon of our sport and people around the world love him," the World No.1 said.
"They love watching him play, love seeing him around. He’s very important for our sport on and off the court.
"So for the sake of our sport, I sincerely hope that we can see him play at least another time.
"I’m sure he doesn’t want to end his career this way. I think he’s gonna definitely try to give it a last push, a last try.
"I’m not sure what his injury is, and I know he’s been struggling with a knee for quite a few years. So, yeah, let’s see."
I'm sad to hear that Roger Federer will not participate at the Australian Open and may not be ready for Wimbledon. I was so looking forward to a Fedal reunion😭 pic.twitter.com/XoBWzyAFtl
— Yin Nooy 🎾RN🐐 (@YinNooy) November 17, 2021
The fact I may have seen Federer’s final Wimbledon/slam appearance as a player is wholesome but also sad at the same time. One of the few truly global athletes of our time. Really hope he’s back for one final ride in 2023, I wouldn’t rule it out just yet...
— o.r. (@ruffollie) November 17, 2021
Yes. Saw it this morning. Very sad as a Federer fan, but.......it;'s all about his quality of life.
— angelique (@chengelis) November 17, 2021
Repairing the meniscus and cartilage regeneration. Federer wants to give himself the absolute best chance to return to tennis and be healthy in doing so. It's sad that this all really started with a slip in Wimbledon.
— FKAnthony2 (@anthony2_fk) November 17, 2021
Federer announcement means Australia may never see him again Roger Federer’s coach has dropped some huge news surrounding the legend’s future — and it is devastating for Australian fans. https://t.co/FXDX2QszYq
— of today (@_oftoday_) November 15, 2021
It's a heartbreaking thread but one has to admire Roger Federer's dedication to the game. Him lifting his 9th Wimbledon title on centre court would be the best thing to ever happen in tennis.#RogerFederer #Tennis https://t.co/lztikd4YMH
— Nirmit Mehta (@NirmitMehta10) November 17, 2021
First Vale and then Kimi and then probably at some point pretty soon Roger Federer..... I can’t believe they are not the new kids on the block anymore which also means I’m not a little kid anymore 🥺#GrazieVale
— millie (@milliewatchesf1) November 14, 2021
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