Roger Federer and His Clay Court Dilemma

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Roger Federer
Roger Federer

After his dismaying fourth-round exit from the Australian Open 2019,  Roger Federer looks forward to playing the clay-court season of this year. The 2009 Roland Garros champion, Federer has not stepped on the clay courts of tennis since 2016 Italian Open where he lost to Dominic Thiem in the third round. He was last featured in the French Open 2015 and there he lost to the eventual champion, Stan Wawrinka. For the past two years, Federer made a wise decision of staying away from the clay surface and which consequently secured him three Grand Slam titles. And the year before his injury halted him to play on clay. And now, his decision to play on clay is certainly a piece of good news for the fans at  Roland Garros, but however, his participation on clay might have an unfavourable impact over his game on grass.

2009 Roland Garros Champion
Roger Federer with the 2009 French Open trophy

Federer’s urge to play Roland Garros and a couple of tournaments before that may be for the sake of playing more matches this year, but this decision might be harmful to his tennis. Besides his long-time rivals, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic (who are accomplished clay-court players), the new generation of tennis which incorporates Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Lucas Pouille would give a tough time to Federer on clay. The 20-time Grand Slam champion, Federer is a classic attacker on the ATP tour, but the topspin returns from the opponent (which makes the ball bounce higher on clay) would create difficulties for an attacker like Federer. On clay, the ball speed and bounce height are different. The sliding characteristics on the surface are a matter of great concern.

Roger Federer defeated Soderling 6-1, 7-6,6-4 in the final.
Roger Federer triumphed over Robin Soderling in 2009 French Open

Additionally, the recent researches reveal that regularly playing on different surfaces and changing between them can considerably increase the player’s risk of injury and also if enough time is not spent on getting adapted to the particular surface, the possibilities of getting a player injured escalate. These facts explicitly convey Federer to rethink upon his choice of playing on clay. If the Swiss legend looks forward to adding more Slams to his illustrious career it is inevitable for him to stay fit and firm. Also, the clay court demands a lot of running and the energy spent on the enclosure is immense. And at this point in time, age is a major matter of concern for Roger. Hence the 37-year-old Swiss must contemplate upon his decision to participate on clay. 

Nevertheless, playing on clay would ameliorate Federer’s mental and physical strengths during the matches. The clay season will act as a practice platform for the upcoming grass court events. During his pre-quarters at Australian Open 2019 against Tsitsipas he was stressed and strained, and the clay court events will aid him to work upon those aspects of the game and prepare him for the major at the SW19 district of London. Also, Federer would get to play longer and tougher rallies on the clay and explore his game against some newly emerged talents who have some enhanced skill set on the clay. On the muddy surface, he would now have to strike the ball from a bit more distance behind the baseline. Also, Federer’s dexterous tennis from the baseline will help him to dominate on the surface for a while.