Roger Federer ready for clay-court comeback at Madrid Open
The Swiss is competing on clay for the first time since 2016 Italian Open in Rome
Last Updated: 06/05/19 4:30pm
Roger Federer will end a near three-year hiatus from clay-court tennis at this week’s Madrid Open and there is great intrigue around how the Swiss great will perform.
The 37-year-old has revealed his decision to return to clay, announced at the Australian Open in January, was down to him being in the "mood".
Federer will make his first appearance on the surface since the 2016 Italian Open and the former world No 1 comes back into the fold on the red dirt at a time when no single player is dominating.
Rafael Nadal is yet to win a title on clay this season - a genuine surprise - while another long-time rival Novak Djokovic is seeking to reach his own high expectations on the surface.
Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas have sent their own message of intent with titles in Barcelona and Estoril respectively, but just how well can Federer re-adapt to a surface that has proved the most challenging during his illustrious career?
Federer has a good record in the Spanish capital, having won the event in 2006 when it was played indoors on hard courts before adding titles in 2009 and 2012 following its move to clay.
A fourth title this week would seem hard to imagine, even for a 20-time Grand Slam champion. There is no substitute for match practice on a surface such as clay, surely?
I'm happy I'm here, I'm happy I am on the surface.
Roger Federer on his return to clay
"I'm happy that the decision I took last December, when I started feeling like I definitely want to play on the clay, was the right one," Federer told the ATP Tour website.
"I haven't looked back yet during the clay court build-up, thinking, 'Ah, maybe I shouldn't have.' I'm happy I'm here, I'm happy I am on the surface.
Roger Federer's record at the Madrid Open
|2012||Champion (beat Tomas Berdych)|
|2010||Final (lost to Rafael Nadal)|
|2009||Champion (beat Rafael Nadal)|
|2007||Final (lost to David Nalbandian)|
|2006||Champion (beat Fernando Gonzalez)|
"It takes some time getting used to how to construct the points a little bit more because there is more baseline (play), a possibility to play with more angles and height. It's been interesting and fun, but not so challenging."
Federer, who won his 101st singles title at the Miami Open in March, is the tournament's fourth seed behind world No 1 Djokovic, Nadal and Alexander Zverev.
He will face either Richard Gasquet or Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in his opening match in Madrid, having received a bye to the second round, and the 2009 French Open champion said he was not trying to burden himself with expectations.
"It will be interesting to see how this tournament goes," Federer added. "I do not have high expectations in some ways.
"But at the same time I also know that things are possible. Madrid always plays fast with the altitude here. I'm intrigued to find out."
Federer has been one of the most intelligent players on tour and when you couple this with his form so far this season -18 wins from 20 matches - there is plenty for him to be optimistic about.
After playing at the Caja Magica, Federer will also feature at Roland Garros later this month and he prepared for Madrid by training with British No 3 Dan Evans at his Switzerland base.
Asked about his build-up, Federer said: "It's been good. It's been fun. I was lucky, we had good weather when I started.
Did you know?
Roger Federer's 75.9 winning percentage on clay throughout his career ranks third among active players. (Behind Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic)
"So that helped because I remember years ago - three or four years ago - when I was practising it was snowing, like this weekend in Switzerland, and that didn't inspire me very much to go practice on clay, or go into an indoor bubble.
"This year was easy. I enjoyed myself a lot."
There is no indication to suggest this will be Federer's last season on tour but his return to the European clay courts is long-awaited and promises to provide a genuine understanding of what he can still achieve on this surface.
The French Open is just around the corner and Federer's scheduled participation adds another intriguing dimension to the men's game.