(Reuters) – Roger Federer’s decision to make his long-awaited Grand Slam return on his least favourite surface at next month’s French Open is part of a grand plan to peak in time for his beloved Wimbledon, according to ESPN commentator Patrick McEnroe.
Federer, who due to injury or schedule preference has not competed on the clay courts at Roland Garros in four of the last five years, returned to competition last month after sitting out more than a year following two knee operations.
“He wouldn’t be showing up to play if he didn’t think he could play well,” former player McEnroe told Reuters in a telephone interview. “But I don’t think he is realistically going there thinking he could win the tournament.”
According to McEnroe, Federer just wants to get more matches under his belt and is more focused on both the grasscourt and hardcourt events ahead, particularly Wimbledon, where he has won a record eight times, and the U.S. Open.
McEnroe, whose “Holding Court” podcast will begin a second season on Tuesday, said Federer, 39, may make a run in Paris but a potential clash with reigning champion Rafa Nadal or world number one Novak Djokovic could prove too much to handle.
“Even when Roger was at his highest level he was the second best claycourt player in the world, which is saying something. I don’t think we can say that right now, especially coming off such a long layoff,” said McEnroe.
“But his expectations are certainly to go there and play well and make a little bit of a run.”
Federer, whose first event back ended in a quarter-final loss at the Qatar Open, will kickstart his claycourt campaign at the Geneva Open in three weeks before going onto the French Open for his first Grand Slam event since the 2020 Australian Open.
McEnroe conceded he was among those who did not expect Federer to pull off a late-career revival during which he added three Grand Slam crowns over a 12-month span that started at the 2017 Australian Open and has learned to never count him out.
“He’s still a threat to win a big tournament,” said McEnroe, the younger brother of seven-times Grand Slam champion John.
“I never underestimate greatness and he’s great, one of the greatest if not the greatest of all time.
“He just loves the game. He loves to play. I don’t think he plays with the sole intention of ‘I’m going to play to try and win every tournament’ and I think that’s part of his popularity and part of his sustainability.”
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Christian Radnedge)