Roger Federer admits Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are clear favourites for the Wimbledon title as the Swiss star tries to salvage an injury-plagued year by winning his favourite tournament for a record eighth time.
For the first time in 15 years, Federer arrives at the All England Club with few pundits expecting the world number three to leave with the trophy after one of the most troubled seasons of his glittering career.
Federer, tied with Pete Sampras on seven Wimbledon men’s singles titles, is preparing to make his 18th successive appearance at the grass-court Grand Slam, but there is now a genuine sense of vulnerability about the 34-year-old as the ravages of time take their toll on his body.
From the moment he suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee while turning awkwardly to run a bath for his children shortly after the Australian Open in January, this has been a year to forget for Federer.
The 17-time Grand Slam champion had surgery on the knee in February but, when he recovered from that, a back problem kept him out of the recent French Open, which ended his record run of 65 consecutive appearances in Grand Slam tournaments.
Back on the lawns of south-west London, Federer, who hasn’t won a title in his six tournaments in 2016, is desperately hoping to emerge from his struggles and emulate his run to Wimbledon final 12 months ago.
“I was very, very sad, just because I thought I was going to be lucky not having to do surgery in my career,” Federer told reporters at Wimbledon on Saturday.
“I just got really disappointed about it because that’s when I really understood what the road was going to look like.
“I felt like I got unlucky throughout the process with hurting my back again before Madrid, getting sick in Miami. I got into a tough spell there.
“I just had to stop everything by not playing Paris, reset basically, essentially. I don’t want to say ‘start from zero’, but just reset from there and make another push for Wimbledon.”
Federer played grass-court events in Stuttgart and Halle earlier this month in a bid to prove his fitness, but although he was happy with how his body responded, the results were a further dent to his morale.
His semi-final loss to Germany’s Alexander Zverev in Halle was his first defeat to a teenager in 10 years.
Federer, who faces Argentine Guido Pella in the Wimbledon first round next week, is trying to stay positive, saying: “Look, this back has won me 88 titles, so I’m okay with that.
“It’s just frustrating because it shakes the whole mechanics of the body, what you can work on. Yeah, maybe if it hits you in bad times, it’s not funny
“All of a sudden you’re coming into Wimbledon with more confidence, more understanding where you’re at. Now we’ll see.
“Now at least I’ve played. That was crucial for me going into Wimbledon knowing, okay, I passed that test, the body can take that amount of tennis.”
Federer, who last clinched a Grand Slam when he won Wimbledon in 2012, is seeded third and Friday’s draw placed him in the same half as Djokovic.
That means he would face the world number one in the semi-finals before a potential final showdown with Murray.
Beaten by Djokovic in the last two Wimbledon finals, Federer had no qualms making the Serb and 2013 champion Murray the front runners for the title.
“Clearly I’m not thinking of the title right away. Novak or Andy are the big favourites in my opinion. They’ve had such a great last six months, last few years. To me they are the ones to beat,” Federer said.
“I need to focus on myself, getting myself into the second week, growing momentum and the whole thing starts rolling then hopefully.” (AFP)