With the new ATP rankings published Monday morning, Roger Federer dropped two spots to #11 in the world. This is the first time the Swiss legend has been outside of the Top 10 since January of 2017–before an incredible run that saw him win three of the next five majors. Playing a limited schedule due to age and injuries, Federer did not have many chances to earn points in 2021. He was aided by the rankings freeze due to the changes in the ATP schedule with the COVID-19 pandemic, though most of those points will drop off by the end of the year. Federer may finally be at the twilight of his career, so will we see him charge back into the Top 10? Or will October 17th, 2021 be the last day of an incredible career spent with a Top 10 ranking next to Federer’s name?
Outlook for 2022
Federer opted to get knee surgery after Wimbledon this year, stating that he will “be on crutches for many weeks and also out of the game for many months.” This does not give an exact timeline but he will surely be out for the rest of 2021 and likely through next year’s Australian Open. A vague description of the recovery does not bode particularly well, especially considering the importance of healthy knees to a tennis player and Federer being 40 years old. He has said that he does not want to rush back to tennis and ensure he is fully healed. This may be bad news for Federer fans but encouraging that he likely truly believes he still has it in him to compete with the best.
It is impossible to know for sure when he will come back, but his focus will only be on grand slams. He will likely not be healthy for the Australian Open, and it would be nearly impossible for him to win the French Open at his age and coming off a knee injury. Wimbledon has been his best major and faster grass courts will help players struggling with their movement. Federer will likely play several events in the late spring/early summer when his body is ready to come back. He will look to gain match fitness in preparation for Wimbledon, which will likely be what he builds his entire season around.
Odds of Reaching the Top 10
Regardless of history, the chances of Federer getting back to the Top 10 are slim. While he has accomplished just about everything in the game of tennis, his one goal will be winning another Grand Slam with Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal both having very reasonable chances next year to break the three-way tie at 20. However, if Federer is able to regain a high ranking, he will be a seeded player at slams and have a theoretically easier path to the title. There will be a big hill to climb, with Federer currently at #71 in the Race to Milan, counting just points earned in 2021. With another month to go in the season, it is likely he will finish the year in the high 70s and will only continue to fall the longer he stays out of the game.
The massive amounts of points given out during grand slams will give Federer hope to return to the top-10. In the past, players ranked 10th generally have between 2,500 and 3,000 points. If Federer can miraculously win Wimbledon, that is 2,000 points alone, and with several hundred earned leading up to the event can get him to that number. Slam finalists earn 1,200 and semifinalists earn 720 points which alone make up a significant chunk of points needed. There is a possible route back to the Top 10 for Federer but it will depend on his health, fitness, and whatever is left in the tank at age 40.
It is All About Wimbledon
Barring something truly shocking, the only Major Federer has a good chance to win and leapfrog him into or close to the Top 10 is Wimbledon. Players such as Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev, and Matteo Berrettini have all shown the ability to play at the top level on hard courts. It is difficult to see Federer getting past multiple of these players on a hard court, not to mention Novak Djokovi,c who currently holds three of the four Major titles. Federer only has one French Open to his name, and the physicality of clay makes the event a huge long shot for him to win.
Wimbledon sets up well for Federer for several reasons. Obviously, he has won eight times at the All England Club and plays brilliant grass court tennis. He can serve and volley well which is crucial for his chances because it will shorten points and save his body. He also still has some of the quickest hands on tour, and can return from merely a step behind the service line and play aggressive points that quickly end with a winner or error. Big servers have had success on grass courts, with Sam Querrey, John Isner, and Kevin Anderson all reaching semifinals in previous years. Federer will have to serve big to have a chance, but doing so will mask physical flaws in his knee and due to his age. Federer also had match point in the 2019 Wimbledon final so he has shown recently that he does still have what it takes to have a chance to win. While it is clearly possible, it is hard to imagine him taking down Djokovic or Berrettini if either player plays at the level they did at the 2021 Championships.
Odds are tennis fans will never see Roger Federer with a single digit ranking beside his name ever again, a small, yet somewhat significant step in the end of the “Big 3” era tennis fans so desperately want to hold on to. Even though it is not the first time, it will still be shocking when Federer does come back to see him without any number next to his name. Federer can perform at Slams to get his ranking back, but it will be hard for him to play enough tournaments at this stage in his career to compete with the rest of the tour. While this is probably the last time, the “Big 3” have continued to shock us for the better part of the last 20 years, so Federer may have one last trick up his sleeve.
Main Photo from Getty.