In 2007, arguably at the height of his powers, the Swiss legend played in 17 tournaments — 14 of which were either Grand Slams, Masters Series tournaments, or the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup.
The three that weren’t in those most elite categories — Dubai, a traditional early-season tune-up for the game’s best; Basel, an understandable stop in his hometown; and a Davis Cup tie — all made perfect sense.
The world No. 1 was very selective with his tennis because, well, why not be? You can do what you want when you’re that good.
Alas, with the era of seemingly effortless dominance behind him, the small tournaments are beginning to creep back into his calendar. He played the smaller Rotterdam event last year for the first time since 2005, and then again this year. He has also played the grass-court event at Halle the past two seasons after skipping it three of the previous five.
Now comes this week’s news that he has added the summer clay-court tournaments in both Hamburg and Gstaad to his 2013 calendar. Hamburg was once a yearly stop for Federer … when it was a Masters Series event and French Open tune-up. It was downgraded in 2009 and Federer hasn’t played it since. It starts July 15.
Gstaad — the week after Hamburg — is an even smaller event still. Federer hasn’t played it since 2004, when he won it. It is his native Switzerland’s national open, but the list of winners since 2004 is not exactly a who’s who. The top committed player for 2013 besides Federer as of this writing is Janko Tipsarevic.
It is certainly a nostalgic venue for Federer. It was the site of his professional debut as a 16-year-old in 1998. He was also famously presented with a cow at that event when he played in 2003, shortly after winning Wimbledon for the first time. And the court features a righteous backdrop that I think would make anyone want to play there:
(Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
The decision to play these events is mildly curious at a time of year when players are usually busy gearing up for the US Open on hard courts. So why add them?
Federer took two months off earlier this year, missing the prestigious Sony Open Tennis in Key Biscayne, and so part of this is likely motivated by a feeling that he’s not yet in top form. But we can’t help but think that it’s also the result of his decline in results — he’s not getting so many of those Grand Slam winner’s paychecks anymore, after all.
On the other hand, it appears to be a sign that Federer doesn’t intend to go the way of Andy Roddick.
It was a respectable decision, but it didn’t make it any easier to watch a tennis star retire. Federer, in going back to the minor leagues, as it were, is at least easing some fears he’s not about to do the same.
Then again, every time we start to imply Federer can’t compete for the best titles anymore, one look at this page gives us pause.