Saturday, December 19, 2015

Deciphering Roger Federer's 2016 schedule

In a year that will see him play the Rio Olympics — which had long ago been a goal and theoretical retirement point — and have a birthday that will get him closer to 40 than 30 — Roger Federer has released a tentative schedule that makes some concessions to age and seems to maximize his chances in tournaments in which he believes he has a realistic shot of winning.

It’s all standard up until Indian Wells, with Federer adding Rotterdam back to the schedule after an absence last year (he played it in 2012 and 2013 after a seven-year absence). There’s an Aussie Open tuneup, the Grand Slam itself, a trip to the UAE, his “home” town these days, and Indian Wells. He won’t play Miami, which he’ll have skipped three of the past for years.

Then there’s the surprise: There aren’t any French Open tuneups on the schedule. This is important for two reasons:

1. The logical reading of this is that Federer is playing for the Olympics, when he might play three events: singles, doubles and mixed doubles (with Martina Hingis). He hasn’t said whether he’ll drop the doubles, but that’d be odd to dump Stan for Martina, especially when they’re reigning doubles champs. And if he’s not really playing before the French, he’s basically admitting he won’t win there, a necessary concession to age, particularly in a grueling season that basically has five majors.

2. Federer is going to miss three — count ’em, three — Masters 1000 events by skipping the clay season and four straight (without Miami) heading into the French. He’s defending 700 points in Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome plus another 250 from a win at a small event in Istanbul. It might not be that damaging to his ranking, which is important given Slam seedings. Right now, Federer is 1,400 points ahead of Wawrinka for No. 2, so that dropped 950 points won’t be devastating, especially given that he’s only defending 90 points from his upset third-round loss at the Australian Open. Make the semifinals there (720 points) and the deficit is almost made up and Federer won’t have to worry about slipping out of the top four. (Plus, Federer has 360 QF points at the French. Sure, the lack of tournament prep could see him go out early, as in 2014, but he could also make the quarters in his sleep.)

The rest of the schedule is less eye-raising: Two Wimbledon tuneups and then a normal hard-court schedule that has that “Rio Olympics” oddity right in the middle.

But, as Federer says, the schedule is tentative. If he has a poor showing in Australia and fails to defend a lot of his finals points from Indian Wells, expect some additional events before the French and, no matter what, lots of emoji tweets about it.

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