Federer to skip French Open, focus on grass, hard courts
By HOWARD FENDRICH
(AP) -- After spending a few days practicing on clay courts in Switzerland, a healthy and well-rested Roger Federer settled on his upcoming schedule: He will bypass the French Open and turn his focus to Wimbledon, then the U.S. Open.
"It was a tough decision to take, because he likes to play the French Open, likes to play the big tournaments," Severin Luthi, who coaches Federer, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Monday. "But I think it was the best decision for him. It's an investment in his career - for this season and for the coming seasons."
Federer posted a message entitled "Roger to skip Roland Garros" on his website on Monday, announcing that he will stay away from competing on clay entirely in 2017 and instead will prepare for the grass- and hard-court events that follow.
"I've been working really hard, both on and off the court, during the last month," Federer wrote, "but in order to try and play on the ATP World Tour for many years to come, I feel it's best to skip the clay court season this year."
It's the second year in a row that Federer pulled out of the French Open, where main-draw play begins in Paris on May 28. He won the title at the clay-court major in 2009 to complete a career Grand Slam.
His absence a year ago, because of back and knee problems that plagued him in 2016, ended his record streak of appearing in 65 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments - every one since the start of 2000.
Now, though, the owner of a record 18 major championships feels great.
And he wants to keep it that way.
"We are in a good situation. He is (healthier than he's) been in the last five years. We could take the decision out of a position of strength," Luthi said about pulling out of the French Open.
"We talked a few times about it but wanted to give ourselves time to think about it," he added. "We spoke again yesterday and made the final decision today."
Luthi said Federer plans to play at two grass-court tournaments in Germany - at Stuttgard starting June 12, and at Halle the week after that - before heading to Wimbledon, where play begins on July 3.
The 35-year-old Federer has not played in a tournament since April 2, when he won his third title of 2017 at the Miami Open and improved his record this year to 19-1, all on hard courts, his best start in more than a decade. At the time, he said he would be taking a break from the tour and did not commit to returning in time for the French Open.
"The start to the year has been magical for me but I need to recognize that scheduling will be the key to my longevity moving forward," Federer wrote. "Thus, my team and I concluded today that playing just one event on clay was not in the best interest of my tennis and physical preparation for the remainder of the season."
Clay tends to be the most physically demanding of tennis' surfaces, requiring plenty of tricky movement and sliding, along with lengthy, grind-it-out points.
Federer's great rival and the man known as the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, has been back to his dominant self on the red stuff lately, compiling a 15-match winning streak and three consecutive titles, including at the Madrid Open on Sunday. That has made Nadal the favorite to collect a record 10th trophy at Roland Garros, which would be his 15th overall at majors, three away from Federer.
Luthi said Federer didn't take Nadal's recent play - or anyone else's - into account as he weighed his options.
"It's really more a decision about him than the others," Luthi said. "It would be a mistake to look at them too much."
Federer missed the last half of 2016, including the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and the U.S. Open, because of his surgically repaired left knee. He started this season the best way possible, winning the Australian Open in January.
As for Paris, if there were those worrying about whether they might have seen the last of the Swiss superstar there, Federer offered a message about the future.
"I will miss the French fans, who have always been so supportive," Federer said, "and I look forward to seeing them at Roland Garros next year."
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Updated May 15, 2017