Roger Federer’s record run at the Australian Open is over with the Swiss maestro electing to skip the opening grand slam of the year as he continues his recovery from knee surgery.
It brings to an end a streak of 21 consecutive appearances at the Open – the most by any player – and is a blow to the rescheduled tournament with Federer a clear crowd favourite.
Federer was last week voted “Fans’ Favourite” for the 18th year in a row at the ATP Awards, despite not playing a tournament since this year’s Open, and always draws a big following at Melbourne Park.
Australian Open boss Craig Tiley confirmed on Monday that the six-time champion had withdrawn but said he hoped to see Federer back in 2022.
The men’s and women’s fields are otherwise expected to be at full strength with the tournament getting under way on February 8.
“In the end Roger ran out of time to get himself ready for the rigours of a grand slam and he’s very disappointed he won’t be coming to Melbourne in 2021,” Tiley said in a statement.
“The Australian Open has always held a special place in his heart – remember it was Roger who first called the AO the ‘happy slam’.
“We wish him all the best as he prepares for his comeback later in the year and look forward to seeing him in Melbourne in 2022.”
Tony Godsick – Federer’s long-time representative and CEO of their management company, TEAM8 – said Federer was making strong progress after two rounds of knee surgery, but wasn’t ready for the opening slam of the year.
Federer, currently ranked world No.5, has been training in Dubai, which many took as a sign he was preparing for the Australian heat.
However, with input from his coaches Severin Luthi and Ivan Ljubicic and fitness coach Pierre Paganini, the decision was made for the 39-year-old to skip the Open, which was delayed three weeks due to quarantine requirements in Australia forced by the coronavirus pandemic.
“After consultation with his team, he decided that the best decision for him in the long run is to return to competitive tennis after the Australian Open,” Godsick said in a statement.
Federer intends to play at Wimbledon, the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics and the US Open and hasn’t indicated any retirement plans.
However, his absence from Melbourne leaves the door open for Rafael Nadal to win a record-setting 21st grand slam title – to move one clear of Federer.
Just weeks after losing in straight sets in the semi-finals of the Australian Open to eventual champion Novak Djokovic in January, Federer underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and then had a second procedure which ruled him off the ATP Tour for the remainder of the season.
World No.1 Djokovic will be gunning for his third successive and ninth overall title at Melbourne Park, while Nadal joined Federer with 20 major titles after claiming this year’s French Open.
World No.3 Dominic Thiem will start among the favourites after winning his first grand slam trophy at the US Open in September and pushing Djokovic to a fifth set in the final of the Australian Open.