Roger Federer (aka the GOAT) announced on Monday that he was skipping this year’s French Open.
As a huge tennis fan, I was initially pretty disappointed. Fed had an epic run at the Australian Open this year, turning back the clock and solidifying his place as the greatest men’s tennis player of all time. Even he didn’t think he would win the first major of the year, as evidenced by his uncharacteristic emotional reaction after being his storied rival Rafael Nadal in the epic final.
Tennis fans probably never thought they’d see Federer win another Grand Slam, and after barely seeing him in 2016, we all cherish every chance to witness the best ever. So his decision not to play in Paris robs us of another opportunity to see the GOAT.
But when you think about Federer’s decision, it actually makes a ton of sense, and I’m really surprised that other players haven’t attempted this strategy in the past.
First off, it would have been a huge long shot for Federer to make a run at Roland Garros, considering the fact that he did not enter any of the clay court warm-up events, and that he has only won one of his 18 major titles on the red clay. Plus, Rafael Nadal is the overwhelming favorite, and barring some sort of massive upset he is going to hoist (and bite) another title in Paris this year.
Federer said that he is skipping the tournament to focus on the grass and hard court seasons that are coming up, and he is attempting to extend his longevity on the tour.
Honestly, that’s just a way to pacify the fans and the media, because playing a clay court tournament will likely have no bearing on his longevity. Clay is the easiest surface in tennis for the joints, and although sliding is a difficult task, it is a much safer way to start and stop compared to stopping on a dime on the other surfaces.
Federer is skipping the French Open because he doesn’t have to play the tournament. It has no effect on his ranking, and there is no punishment for missing one of the four Grand Slams.
The (stupid) way the ranking system works compares what you did in an event the year prior to what you do in it this season. The amount of points a player has is their year-long total, and they have to defend whatever points they earned at each tournament last year.
For example, Nadal just won the Masters events in Monte Carlo and Madrid, which earned him 1,000 points each. When he comes back to those tournaments in 2018, he’ll have 1,000 points to defend. So at the end of those events, 1,000 points will be subtracted from his year-long total, and whatever he earns in 2018 at them will be added, so he has to win both of them again next year or his point total will drop.
Federer didn’t play any of the clay court events last year due to injuries, so he lost nothing by skipping them this year “to rest”. He’s planning on playing the two grass court warm-up events in Stuttgart and Halle this year since he also played in them last season and earned points. He’ll then go to Wimbledon to defend his semifinal appearance last year, and then will have zero points coming off his total for the rest of the year, as Wimbledon was the last event he played in 2016.
With Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic scuffling this season, and Murray having a ton of points to defend at the end of the year, Federer still has a great chance to end the year atop the rankings for the sixth time. Murray has a 4,000+ point lead over Djokovic and almost 5,000+ over Federer, but the Brit won his last five tournaments of 2016 (two mid-level events, two Masters events, and the ATP Finals) and he is the reigning Wimbledon champ. That’s 6,500 points that will be coming off his total from late June to early November.
By playing the French Open, Federer would have an opportunity to inch a little closer to Murray (who lost in the finals and has 1,200 points to defend), but he’s clearly just saving his energy for that late swing of events where Murray’s point total is going to plummet, especially if the Brit continues to struggle.
If the rankings started at the beginning of the year, Federer and Nadal would be the clear cut #1 and #2 players on the tour currently, and Fed could be persuaded to play at Roland Garros to attempt to regain or hold onto the top spot. But since there’s really no benefit for him to play at a Grand Slam due to the current ranking system, we are going to miss out on seeing the GOAT possibly face his closest competitor to that crowd on Nadal’s favorite and best surface.
I’m really surprised other players haven’t done this in recent years, especially when Nadal absolutely dominated the clay court circuit (which he’s doing yet again this year). You would take a hit in the rankings for one season, but if you were never really that good on clay it wouldn’t be much of a hit. If you wanted to get the prize money at the French Open and maybe see if you could make a run at the most unpredictable Slam, you still could as long as your ranking was still high enough to get a direct entry. And you could “save your energy” just like Federer is for the summer swing of events, which starts soon after the French and continues through the US Open series and the last major of the year.
Tennis fans hope that the top players don’t figure out this strategy, but if Federer ends the year in the same way he started it, he’ll have outsmarted the entire men’s field and added “genius” to his lengthy list of achievements in this sport.
Written By: Adam Belue (@albinomamba44)