With the clay-court season only three weeks away, tennis fans are asking: Will Roger Federer play the French Open?
Federer plans on deciding after the Miami Open, which ends on April 1, and the men's record 20-time grand slam winner says that his choice won't be based on the state of the two biggest rivals in his career, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
Federer missed last year's clay swing to focus on Wimbledon
Back to No. 1, the Swiss star is playing some of his best tennis
"King of Clay Rafael Nadal is currently injured
Federer won his lone French Open title in 2009
The "King of Clay" with 10 French Open titles, Nadal is currently nursing his latest injury, a hip issue, while Djokovic is finding the road back from an elbow complaint difficult. The 12-time grand slam champion was upset in his Indian Wells opener this week by Japanese qualifier Taro Daniel.
"If I play the clay or not does not depend on Rafa or Novak or if they play or they don't play," Federer told reporters in Indian Wells, where he beat Jeremy Chardy 7-5 6-4 on Wednesday to remain unbeaten in 2018 and move closer to defending his title in the California desert.
"It really depends on what do I want to do, how do I keep myself injury free, how do I keep the fire burning, what is my head telling to myself?
"What am I in the mood to do, basically? It's pretty simple."
Federer has always been meticulous in his scheduling and things worked out perfectly for him last year when he returned from a knee injury that blighted his 2016 campaign.
He opted to skip the clay-court swing to prepare for Wimbledon -- and won at the All England Club without surrendering a set.
It was likely easier for Federer to bypass the clay back then because he was in the infancy of his comeback.
However, after he gave the French Open a miss last year, Federer's longtime coach and friend Severin L-thi told The New York Times: "I'm very confident that Roger will play the French Open again."
Madrid on the cards?
If Federer avoids the dirt again it would undoubtedly aid his 36-year-old body and boost his chances of a repeat success at Wimbledon. He has already said he won't play in Monte Carlo next month, so that would leave Madrid and Rome in May as targets if he is to realistically feature at Roland Garros, which is the second grand slam of the season.
And given his dominant form, Federer must be tempted.
He returned to No. 1 in February after a five-year absence -- becoming the oldest No. 1 -- and has defeated Nadal five straight times after the Spaniard had routinely won their duels.
None of those victories were on clay but this season indeed could mark Federer's greatest opportunity of topping Nadal at the French Open -- something he has never done -- including if the Mallorcan is 100% fit.
"If he plays, he'd be one of (Nadal's) biggest rivals," Nadal's uncle and traveling coach through last season, Toni, told a group of reporters at a conference in Murcia, Spain on Thursday.
Federer is 0-5 against Nadal on the Parisian clay, suffering one of his worst ever defeats in the 2008 final when he claimed just four games.
Nadal meanwhile has toppled Federer at the grand slam the latter is most associated with, Wimbledon, a month later in 2008 in what many consider the greatest tennis match of all time.
When Federer captured his lone French Open crown in 2009, he didn't have to go through Nadal. He beat Robin Soderling in the final after the Swede engineered one of tennis' biggest ever shocks by ousting Nadal in the round of 16.
"Sure I'd love to play Rafa on clay, best of five set match, don't get me wrong," said Federer. "I'd like to see what would happen now.
"But there is absolutely no guarantee that I would have a better chance now than before. I still think he's the guy to beat on clay and he forever will be maybe the greatest player of all time on clay, hands down."
'I am a clay-court player'
If Nadal wasn't in his way, where would Federer be on that list? Somewhere near the top.
As it stands he holds the 14th best winning percentage of men's players on clay according to the ATP -- after losing his first 11 top-level matches on the surface. Nadal of course leads the way.
Despite his more recognized success on grass and hard courts, Federer grew up on clay.
"I am a clay-court player, essentially," he said after his Match for Africa charity outing in San Jose in early March. "I played even indoors on clay, that was my court in the winter.
"I was enjoying playing on clay. At the beginning on the tour it was hard because I lost my first 11 and then at the French Open it took time to win and then people thought, 'He doesn't like clay.'
"Maybe because on the other (surfaces) results came easier and faster.
"Over time, because you have more success on hard, grass, indoors, you also start to make your schedule a little bit more around that."
But he added: "I am really happy with my clay-court career."
Tennis fans would be happy to see Federer at the French Open, which starts May 27.
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