Doubts are persistent companions. Roger Federer knows.
Questions are swirling in the 39-year-old’s head as he prepares for a return to competition this week at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open. He was out of the sport for a year, underwent two arthroscopic surgeries on his right knee in 2020, but is poised to swing again.
“When you come back from injury, the biggest challenge is to trust in yourself again, trust in the capability of your body. Can you stop on a dime, sprint when you want? The opponent feels it if you’re not 100 percent.”
In a draw headed by Dominic Thiem, the Swiss, seeded two, plays the winner of the first-round match that pits Jeremy Chardy against Daniel Evans.
“I feel I can play at a good level right now, is it the best level, no chance,” the 39-year-old said, adding that he has been able to practice for over two-hours for five successive days. “Matches are a different story, nerves creep in, you want to go all out. I feel like I can go all out (when I play) on Tuesday or Wednesday.”
Retirement wasn’t on the cards for the 20-time major winner. In May, after the second surgery, he had conversations with his team and family on the road ahead.
“When I had the first operation the goal was to be ready for Wimbledon (2020), I didn’t expect complications,” he said. “The knee was swelling up just like that, I went for walks with the kids, I went for a bike ride and came back with a swollen knee. I didn’t understand what was happening because the training was going very well.”
The second surgery, Federer said, he wanted to do for his life. Regardless of whether he could play professionally again. To go skiing with his kids, play basketball and football with friends.
“After the second (surgery) I was down, I couldn’t believe I had to do a second one. That’s the moment when you question everything. A double knee surgery is a challenge I’ve never experienced before.”
Federer took recourse from 2017, when he returned to the Tour after surgery to his left knee. He went on to win the Australian Open and Wimbledon that year.
“The next five months will be interesting, playing more, travelling more,” said the Swiss, who is hoping to be in prime condition come Wimbledon in July. “How is the knee going to react when you fly transatlantic? When you go from time zone to zone, backing up five-set matches? How is it to play four days straight? All these questions, I need to give myself answers.”
“However this tournament ends, I would be happy knowing that I played a tournament again,” Federer said. “Expectations are really low, but I hope I can surprise myself and maybe others.”
ROGER ON THE ROAD
–Roger Federer hasn’t played since losing the 2020 Australian Open semifinals to Novak Djokovic.
–Underwent right knee surgeries in February 2020 and May 2020.
–Has won 103 titles, 1,242 wins (second in Open Era to Connors’ 109 and 1,274).
PLAYING BEFORE EMPTY STANDS – QUOTE
To play for so much, but in front of nobody. We’re having 2000 spectators in Doha, that’s almost normal. Anything is better than zero. When you can hear a pin drop is not that fun, even 100 people is good. When you have music in a little bar with 100 people you get great atmosphere.’