Roger Federer insisted on Monday his focus at this week’s Italian Open was on getting more match practice on clay ahead of the French Open in two weeks time.
The 20-time Grand Slam winner has not played on the red clay in the Foro Italico since 2015 when he finished runner-up for the fourth time, losing to Novak Djokovic in the final.
“Regardless of what happens here, I just think it’s good for me to play matches at this stage,” said world number three Federer before his first match on Wednesday. He has a first-round bye as the number three seed, and will begin his tournament against either American Frances Tiafoe or Portugal’s Joao Sousa.
The 37-year-old’s performance in the Madrid Open last week has boosted his hopes of winning the French Open, a decade after his only title there. He fell in the quarter-finals on Friday to Dominic Thiem, but twice held match point and for a set and a half was dominant against a player considered among the favourites for Roland Garros after Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
“I think I was playing well in Madrid, so I just said, again, ‘Let’s come to Rome, a city I like so much as well’. Madrid is a tough place to play. I felt like playing somewhat maybe more sea level conditions would be good for me.
“There would be excitement, more excitement than me coming to a practice court in Switzerland. I think this week, then next week in Paris, it’s going to be interesting to see how I play the points, how I do it all.”
Federer’s arrival in the Italian capital has been a boost for organisers who doubled ticket prices after it was announced he would be playing. “That’s obviously disappointing to hear,” he said. “I just really hope it doesn’t take away the fact I’m really happy to be here.”
‘New wave coming through’
Federer is in the same half of the draw as eight-time Rome winner Rafael Nadal, who is looking for his first clay title this season before his French Open title defence.
“I have other problems first getting there,” said Federer, who could meet the Spaniard in the semi-final.
A potential quarter-final awaits against either Stefanos Tsitsipas, the eighth seed, who beat Nadal in the Madrid semi-finals, or Italian 10th seed Fabio Fognini, the Monte Carlo winner.
“I thought Stefanos was very impressive against him (Nadal) last week,” continued Federer. “I think it’s going to be a good season. It’s going to be interesting to see who is going to make the World Tour Finals, especially if so many guys have won especially big titles, like Fabio in Monaco.
“There is a bit of a new wave coming through with the one-handed backhand that can counter some of Rafa’s spins and lefty play. But, again, this is maybe also just a moment in time. We’ll see what happens for the rest of the year.
“It’s announcing to be a very exciting season, even a more complicated one for the top guys next year, I believe, because this is the year where they truly are breaking through, truly are gaining a lot of experience. Especially for the clay-courters.”