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Roger Federer vows 'the story's not over' as returning star sets sights on more Wimbledon glory

Simon Briggs
·4-min read
Roger Federer returns after 14-month absence and has one one thing in mind: Wimbledon -  Getty Images
Roger Federer returns after 14-month absence and has one one thing in mind: Wimbledon - Getty Images

Roger Federer vowed that “the story’s not over yet” as he prepared for his comeback from injury and targeted a triumphant return at Wimbledon.

Federer – who will be 40 in August – has not played on the professional tour for almost 14 months, because of two keyhole operations on his right knee.

He remains concerned about the state of that troublesome joint – which suffered an unexpected setback last spring – and admitted on Sunday that “the knee will dictate how the comeback will be, how the results will be, how long I can keep doing this.

“How is the knee going to react when you fly transatlantic, you go from time zone to time zone? How is it backing up a best-of-five-set match or playing four days straight against top players? All these questions I need to give myself answers.”

But he also offered plenty of encouragement to his legions of fans around the world. “I’m in such a wonderful position now that I can actually play five days straight, two-and-a-half hours a day,” Federer said. “That’s something I didn’t expect to be doing this time of the year.”

Federer is gearing up for another go at Wimbledon success -  Getty Images 
Federer is gearing up for another go at Wimbledon success - Getty Images

His first match back will be played in Doha on Wednesday, and there is a good chance that it will come against British No 1 Dan Evans. As the second seed, Federer receives a bye straight in to the second round.

But Federer said that his first few weeks on the tour are likely to be no more than a preparation for the central part of his year: the grass-court season.

“It’s still [about] building up to being stronger, better, fitter, faster, all that stuff,” he said, “So I hope by Wimbledon I will be 100 per cent and from then on the season really starts for me.

“Right now, I take it day by day, happy I am back on the tour again, and see how things go. For me, everything starts hopefully with the grass, yeah.”

Federer added that he is not concerned about his game – “for me, tennis is like riding a bike” – but more about how his body will respond. He underwent his first operation on that right knee shortly after the 2020 Australian Open, and made strong initial progress in his rehab, only for things to turn sour around six weeks later.

“I didn’t expect complications to come about,” he said. “[But] they came about just like that. I would go for a walk with the kids, or go for a bike ride, and I would have a swollen knee. I wouldn’t understand what was happening because training was actually going very well for the first four or five weeks.

“Obviously I was down. I couldn’t believe I had to do a second [operation]. This is a moment when you question everything a little bit more.”

But when asked if he had ever spoken to family or support-staff members about retirement, Federer replied in the negative. “I feel that there’s still something left. Retirement was never really on the cards. It’s really a conversation where, if the knee keeps bothering me for months and months to come, then we have to look at it.”

Rather than switching off from the game during his sabbatical, Federer admitted that he had kept checking up on scores “every single day, every other hour to know what's going on in Challengers and Futures and tour events. I just wanted to know what's up, even in the doubles. I enjoy the sport and I cannot look the other way.”

But he did not seem perturbed about Rafael Nadal drawing level with his record tally of 20 grand-slam titles, nor Novak Djokovic recently claiming an 18th major in Melbourne.

“I think for them maybe this is bigger than for me,” he said, of the three-way race to finish at the top of the grand-slam chart. “For me it was very important the closer I was getting to Pete’s [Sampras] record and potentially break it. For them maybe I’m the measuring stick like Pete was for me.”

As for his enduring desire to compete at what is an unusually advanced age in the modern game, he replied: “it’s not for one particular reason other than I enjoy playing tennis, I enjoy being on the road. That will all be checked and tested this year with bubble life, quarantine all around. The whole mask situation. Travel is difficult. Rehabbing and all that stuff is not complete yet, you know? So I’m still a work in progress.

“Probably one of the reasons is that I would like to get the high again of playing against the best players, playing the biggest tournaments, being in the conversation. Hopefully I will play long enough to see full crowds again.”