Djokovic and Federer set for clay court return

Top seed Novak Djokovic and number two Roger Federer are both feeling close to the top of their games as the Monte Carlo Masters began on Sunday, marking the glamour start to the European clay court season.

Djokovic and Federer set for clay court return
The rivalry continues: Federer and Djokovic at Indian Wells last month. Photo: AFP

The run to Roland Garros over the next six weeks will be a test bed for the elite pair, with Djokovic hoping that his superlative hard-court form will translate smoothly to the dirt and Federer banking on the results of a Swiss training stint to polish his game to a glossy sheen.
Switzerland's Federer lost the final at the seaside Country Club a year ago to compatriot Stan Wawrinka.
After arriving on Thursday in the principality and already getting in a pair of hitting sessions on Centre Court, the 17-time Grand Slam winner is ready to make another run at a major title which has eluded him.
The second seed starts against the winner from Frenchman Jeremy Chardy and a qualifier in the second round after the bye given to the top eight seeds.
"I'm feeling good about my game and my fitness," said the 33-year-old Basel native with titles this season from Brisbane and Dubai, plus a final in Indian Wells.
"I feel like I did all the right things to prepare for the clay season."
The Swiss skipped the Miami event won by Djokovic to concentrate on a brief family holiday and a training block near Zurich.
"We are onto clay for the first time in seven months after hard court," he said.

"We'll see, but so far, so good."
Federer said that he will play his pre-French Open run by ear, hinting that competing in Rome next month would be a late decision, with the Italian event possibly replaced by some private training if he feels the need.
"I want to do work that will be useful looking ahead of the french Open and Wimbledon."
Djokovic has been going full-tilt since the start of 2015 and has the trophies to prove it after winning the Australian Open for a fifth time and earning his third career title double with back-to-back top honours on Indian Wells and Miami cement.
The Monte Carlo-based Serb is happy to be playing at home and trying not to think of all the tennis he's already in his legs during in the first quarter of the season.
"I'm not thinking about being tired, I'm just relying on the fitness training I did in the off-season and all the work to get myself into a state of mind where I can sustain high levels of tennis throughout most of year,"
said the eight-time Grand Slam champion, off to his best career start since 2011.
"It's not the first time that I've played so many matches, but that's a positive consequences due to my great results," he said.
"I cannot complain, I'm enjoying my time on court."
The Serb is counting on his fitness to hold up after losing a semi-final to Federer a year ago while plagued with a wrist problem.
"I'm playing some of my best tennis now, hopefully I can follow up as there is a lot more of the season to come," Djokovic said.

"The clay is completely different from hard court, but this is the surface I grew up on," he said.

"This is my home base, I feel comfortable here and have played consistently well in the last few years.
"I just hope to start the clay season like I want to."
First-round play began with only three matches scheduled. Victor Estrella Burgos of the Domenican Republic became the week's first winner as he beat Italian Simone Bolelli 6-4, 7-6 (7/5).

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Is this the end of the road for Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer?

Roger Federer is talking optimistically about returning to his "highest level" after knee surgery, but does tennis have to start adjusting to a future without the Swiss star?

Is this the end of the road for Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer?
Is it the end of the line for Roger? Photo: Martin BUREAU / AFP

The 20-time Grand Slam winner announced on Wednesday that he would be sidelined until 2021 after his second operation in a matter of months.

Federer remains upbeat, tweeting: “I plan to take the necessary time to be 100 percent ready to play at my highest level.”

In some ways 2020 is a good season to miss after the coronavirus ravaged the tennis schedule. Writing Federer off in the past has proved dangerous.

He returned from a six-month injury lay-off to claim the Australian Open in 2017, winning his eighth Wimbledon crown later that year.

But he will be 40 in 2021 and is now heading into uncharted territory.

Despite his groaning trophy cabinet, there are two factors that will motivate Federer to keep going — the risk of losing his grip on the men's Grand Slam title record and a missing Olympics singles gold medal.

Rafael Nadal has 19 majors, just one shy of Federer's mark and Djokovic has 17.

Spain's Nadal will be fancied to draw level with Federer at the French Open, rescheduled for September, while few would bet against Djokovic winning in New York weeks earlier.

In April, Federer said he was “devastated” when Wimbledon was cancelled for the first time since World War II. Last year he fell agonisingly short at the All England Club, failing to convert two championship points on his own serve against Djokovic.

The Wimbledon grass probably remains his best chance of adding to his Grand Slam collection — he has not won the US Open since 2008 and his only title at Roland Garros came in 2009.

Even though Federer has slipped from the very pinnacle of the game, he is still a major threat to Nadal and Djokovic.

'Golden' ambitions

Last year, the world number four had a 53-10 win-loss record and he reached the semi-finals at the Australian Open in January in his only tournament this year.

Federer, who is still six ATP titles short of Jimmy Connors' all-time record of 109, has one glaring omission from his CV — the Olympic title.

The Swiss won doubles gold in Beijing in 2008 with compatriot Stan Wawrinka but lost in the singles final to Andy Murray in London four years later.

The postponed Tokyo Games will almost certainly be Federer's last opportunity to complete a career “golden” Grand Slam — he will turn 40 on the day of the closing ceremony next year.

Tennis will feel the loss of the elegant Federer keenly when he walks off the court for the last time.

Djokovic and Nadal have been the dominant forces in recent years but the Swiss remains the biggest draw and last month topped Forbes' list of the world's highest-earning athletes.

His last appearance on court was in front of nearly 52,000 fans — touted by organisers as a world record for tennis — at a charity match against Nadal in Cape Town in February.

Federer is nearly always the crowd favourite wherever he plays and has proved a perfect ambassador for the sport since he won his first Grand Slam title in 2003.

He certainly expects to be back and competitive next year.

“I will be missing my fans and the tour dearly but I will look forward to seeing everyone back on tour at the start of the 2021 season,” he tweeted.

The avalanche of support from his adoring fans showed they would miss him too, but they will have to get used to a time when he is gone for good.