Switzerland’s Roger Federer
Switzerland’s Roger Federer seems to have been at the top of tennis forever. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: A second knee surgery in less than four months, and Roger Federer — considered by many as one of the finest gifts to tennis — is hopeful of making yet another memorable return.

The 20-time champion, who is realistically within overtaking distance for the number of Slams won, by close friend Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, went on to assure that he will return to his “highest level” following a second surgery on the same right knee.

The first one on February 19 didn’t come exactly at the best time — from a Dubai point of view, anyway — as Federer missed out on defending his Duty Free title at his second home here. But, for the player, it was the best time as he could concentrate on rehabilitation and muscle strengthening while the North American hard court season was on, before heading into the grass season possibly climaxing at Wimbledon.

And then last Wednesday, Federer once again took to Twitter to announce that he would be sidelined from tennis at least until 2021. As usual, the 38-year-old Swiss remained upbeat. “I plan to take the necessary time to be 100 per cent ready to play at my highest level,” he tweeted.

In some ways, 2020 looks like a good year to miss out for Federer following the disruption of the ATP tennis calendar due to the virus. It looks like an automatic remission for a man who has hitherto lived a near injury-free ride on the men’s circuit.

Federer has always been a huge crowd-puller anywhere he’s played. In addition, his suave ways on and off the court find in him a near-perfect ambassador of tennis, and sport at large. His first Grand Slam came way back in 2003, and yet he has managed to stay relevant and competitive at the same time.

One thing for certain that will drive him during his rehabilitation is the pursuit of an individual Olympic gold medal in Tokyo next summer, while another is asserting himself as the greatest men’s player while holding on to his Grand Slam titles record.

In 2019, the world No. 4 had a 53-10 win-loss record, and yet he made it to the semi-finals of the Australian Open in January — ironically the only tournament he has played so far in 2020. The Swiss ace won Olympic doubles gold with Stan Wawrinka in Beijing 2008, and suffered a heart-wrenching loss in the men’s singles final to home favourite Andy Murray four years later at London 2012.

Writing off Federer has been at one’s own peril in the past. He returned from a six-month layoff to claim the Australian Open in 2017 and then went on to clinch an eighth crown at Wimbledon later that year. Nadal will be the firm favourite for a record 13th title at the rescheduled French Open, a feat that would pull him level with Federer for majors won.

But Federer will be turning 40 in 2021. And yet, what exactly could keep the Swiss maestro going when he ultimately makes his comeback as promised?

Next year’s postponed 2020 Tokyo Games will almost certainly be Federer’s last opportunity and lay to rest a truly ‘golden’ career. The closing ceremony of Tokyo 2020 on August 8 falls brilliantly on the very day Federer turns 40. A good signing-off omen for a brilliant career, perhaps?