The Swiss tennis star is recovering from a knee injury that limited his time on court in 2020. He is seeking his first Olympic gold in singles.
And to win a gold medal in men’s singles? That would make it that much better.
Having won gold in doubles alongside Stan Wawrinka at Beijing 2008 and earning the silver in singles at London 2012 (Andy Murray beat him in the final), Federer is still chasing one of the few things in tennis he hasn’t accomplished: Singles Olympic gold.
“I really hope I can come back to Tokyo for that,” Federer said of the Games, postponed to July and August 2021.
“This is for me the big one. Maybe selfishly for me it has not been a bad thing that it was actually [postponed] a little, you know because of the problems I had last year.”
Federer’s “problems” in 2020 went beyond the COVID-19 pandemic as he had knee surgery in February. He then revealed in June that he would be sidelined for the rest of the season to recover, missing both the U.S. and French Opens.
“I will look forward to seeing everyone back on tour to start the 2021 season,” he wrote on social media in June.
Federer’s own start to the 2021 season isn’t crystal clear, however, as he hinted at a Swiss sports award ceremony on 13 December that his participation in the Australian Open – now set to start in early February – wasn’t 100 percent certain.
“The next three months are going to be crucial for me,” Federer said in his speech, accepting an award as the top sportsman in Switzerland for the past 70 years.
“I hope to return to the circuit in 2021. We'll see, but if my career had to end there, it would be incredible to end it with this award."
Federer added: "I would have hoped that I would be at 100 percent by October. But I still am not today.
It will be tight for the Australian Open. ... I wish I was further along, but at the same time I'm satisfied with where I am at the moment."
The Australian Open has been pushed back from its original start date of 18 January to instead commence on 8 February after tournament officials and health authorities worked out a plan for players to enter the country under strict quarantine rules.
Federer made the semi-finals there in 2020, losing to eventual champion Novak Djokovic.
The Olympics hold a special place in the Swiss maestro’s heart: At Sydney 2000, only 20 years young, Federer met his future wife, Mirka Vavrinec, who was playing for the Swiss women’s team.
While Federer and another rival, Rafael Nadal, are tied for the most Grand Slam trophies in men’s tennis at 20, the Olympic gold in men’s singles has eluded Federer.
He made a splash of a debut at Sydney 2000, ranked just 36th but making his way to the semi-finals, where he lost to Germany’s Tommy Haas. He would be denied a medal in the bronze match, losing in three close sets to Arnaud Di Pasquale of France.
In 2004, when Federer first became world No.1 off his maiden major wins at Wimbledon and the Australian Open, he lost in the second round at Athens 2004 to Tomas Berdych, a Czech player who was then ranked No.79 in the world.
Four years later, this time as the No.2 seed, Federer progressed to the Beijing 2008 quarter-finals. He faced American James Blake there, owning an 8-0 mark against the 7th-ranked Blake. But Federer would lose that match, only to be buoyed by his gold medal in doubles alongside Wawrinka a few days later.
London 2012 was Federer’s best performance in singles, including a four-hour, 28-minute win over Juan Martin Del Potro in the semi-finals, the longest-ever three-set match (in the sport’s Open Era). With no tiebreak in the third set, Federer and Del Potro battled for nearly five hours. And while the Swiss star would emerge the victor, his body could not withstand the rigors of then trying to back up a best-of-five-set final vs. Murray, whom he had beaten just weeks prior on Wimbledon’s Centre Court for his seventh title there.
Murray won the Olympic final in straight sets.
In 2016, Federer missed the Rio Summer Games due to a knee injury that set him out for the remainder of that season.
Only Nadal (Beijing 2008) and Andre Agassi (Atlanta 1996) have completed the feat of winning all four majors in tennis as well as Olympic gold. Djokovic, the current world No.1, is also still seeking singles gold, a goal for him at Tokyo 2020, as well.
Federer has bounced back previously in his career, including the aforementioned 2016 knee injury, when he would go on to win the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2017, his first major titles in nearly five years.
Turning 40 this August, however, he has been careful with his body in what is an increasingly physical sport. Federer credits his Swiss fitness coach, Pierre Paganini as a key factor for the limited amount of injuries in his career.
Previously, Murray has expressed desire to go after a third consecutive gold medal in Tokyo, having been victorious in both London and Rio, though he has dealt with injuries, surgeries and subsequent comebacks himself.
It remains to be seen: Will the sport’s “Big 4” be the main talking points come Tokyo 2020? Or could breakthrough winners like Dominic Thiem (US Open), Daniil Medvedev (ATP Finals), Stefanos Tsitsipas (Finals, 2019) or others be the ones in contention for medals?
“Let’s hope for the best for the Olympic Games coming to Tokyo next year, this is also one of my big goals,” Federer said in his recent chat with Nishikori. “I really hope I can come back to Tokyo for that.”