Roger Federer has announced a major change in his plans for 2019, which many believe is a clear sign this year will be his last.
In his post-match press conference on Sunday night, Federer revealed he will make a surprise return to the French Open after a four-year absence.
However it remains to be seen if he’ll be back at Melbourne Park, after his bid for a record seventh Australian Open title was ended by Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Federer’s magical run at the season-opening major came to a dramatic end on Sunday night as Greek prodigy Tsitsipas – 17 years Federer’s junior – showed nerves of steel to defeat the 37-year-old 6-7 (11-13) 7-6 (7-3) 7-5 7-6 (7-5).
The vanquished Swiss maestro waved to fans as he departed Rod Laver Arena, the scene of countless triumphs and a late-career renaissance which included title victories over Rafael Nadal in 2017 and Marin Cilic last year.
Federer later revealed he plans to contest the French Open for the first time in four years – an announcement that immediately prompted speculation he could be eyeing a farewell tour.
The 2009 champion withdrew from the 2016 tournament and skipped the clay season in each of the two years that followed.
“It’s a bit of a desire. I’m in a phase where I want to have fun and I’ve missed not doing it,” Federer was quoted as saying in French by Agence France-Presse.
“I don’t feel it is necessary to have a big break again.”
While Federer is yet to address his long-term future, it is far from certain he will return at age 38 to make a record 21st Australian Open appearance.
Roger Federer confirms he will play on the clay this year after skipping it the past two years. Strange that he has decided to return given his age & strain on his body. He has very little chance of winning the French Open. So why not rest & prepare for Wimbledon again? #AusOpen
— Uche Amako (@UcheAmako) January 20, 2019
Federer playing the whole tour seems like he is performing a farewell tour
— enrico maria riva (@enricomariariva) January 20, 2019
My theory had always been that Federer would play the French Open again when it was his last season.
— Nick Nemeroff (@NNemeroff) January 20, 2019
Federer confirmed that he will play the French Open this year…
I’m sure he’ll play a few clay tournaments too.
Definitely getting the feeling that this is his last season.
He doesn’t love clay…#AusOpen
— Melvin (@MTKigz) January 20, 2019
In his current form, feels like it's Federer's farewell tour if he plays RG. But even if he was retiring this year, I'd still rather see him maximizing his chances at Wimbledon, which is somewhat realistic, and skipping the clay. #AusOpen #Federer
— Kalle August (@FINdyCar) January 20, 2019
— Isaac Farnworth (@isaac_farnworth) January 20, 2019
His performance in a scintillating clash with Tsitsipas was hardly that of a star on the wane, although he paid the price for an unusually high 55 unforced errors.
Rising to the occasion in spectacular fashion, Tsitsipas saved 12 break points to hold serve for the match and deny Federer an opening.
“I also didn’t break him at the Hopman Cup, so clearly something is wrong how I return him, what I’m trying to do,” a dejected Federer said.
“He’s doing a good job to defend them. Nevertheless, it’s very frustrating.”
After prevailing in a tiebreak to take the first set in just shy of an hour, Federer had opportunities to press his advantage but couldn’t finish his work.
The 20-time grand-slam title winner had four set points on Tsitsipas’s serve up 5-4 in the second but failed to convert.
“I have massive regrets tonight … I felt like I have to win the second set,” Federer said.
“I don’t care how I do it but I have to do it. Cost me the game tonight.”