His early exit from the tournament means Andy Murray will return to world No. 2 ahead of the Roland Garros tournament
Roger Federer’s participation in the forthcoming French Open is in the balance as the 34-year-old Swiss continues to recover from his latest injury in a season that has been dogged by physical issues.
Federer was beaten 7-6, 6-4 by Dominic Thiem here in the third round of the Rome Masters and now faces a race against time to be fit for Roland Garros. He has appeared in a record 65 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments dating back to the 2000 Australian Open.
“I feel like now obviously time starts ticking more towards Paris,” Federer said after his 78-minute defeat. “The next 10 or 12 days are really going to be important for me to recover and then make a plan.”
The result means that Andy Murray will reclaim the world No 2 position from Federer next week and will be the No 2 seed at the French Open, which begins on Sunday week.
It has been a difficult year for Federer, who had knee surgery in February, pulled out of the Miami Masters in March because of illness and withdrew from last week’s Madrid Masters because of his back problem. Since the end of January he has played in only two tournaments, having belatedly made his comeback at last month’s Monte Carlo Masters, where he lost in the quarter-finals.
Federer did not want to go into detail about his latest problem, saying only that it was “something to do with the back”. He added: “I just feel the body is not ready.”
He said that he would not start the French Open if he felt as he had before his first match here, when he had expected to lose in straight sets to Alexander Zverev. However, the 17-times Grand Slam champion was happy that he had played two matches this week and said the defeat to Thiem was irrelevant in the bigger picture.
Although he did not move with his usual fluency, Federer made the first break of serve in the opening set, only for Thiem to break back and force the tie-break, which he won 7-2. The Austrian made the crucial break in the second set at 2-2 when he chased down a Federer volley to hit a winning forehand cross-court pass.
“It was important that I didn’t have any setbacks and I was able to step on the tennis court and that I tried what I could with what I had,” Federer said.
“I’m so happy that I didn’t get hurt again this week, that it was worth it that I played on the court. OK it was compromised, but that I don’t care about. I’m just happy I’m through the tournament now and I can look ahead. Now I can pace myself. In a match you cannot really pace yourself.”