Roger Federer has demanded greater investment in anti-doping programmes from the tennis authorities, and called for more regular drug testing.
Doping in tennis has been under scrutiny since former world No 1 Maria Sharapova was given a two-year suspension in March - later reduced to 15 months on appeal - for taking the banned substance Meldonium, and Federer would like to see more of the sport’s wealth used to tackle the issue.
In a week when the Australian Open has increased prize money to a record total of £29.4 million, tennis’s anti-doping annual budget of about $4 million (£3.2 million) - paid for by the ITF, ATP, WTA and the four grand slam events - has been brought into sharp relief.
Federer said to reporters on Friday: “It’s really hard for me to tell but with all the money we have in the sport, you would think they would have more funding for the anti-doping programme.
“That seems logical to me but maybe it’s not so logical to get that money because we’ve had some issues in the past but it’s not been all the time everywhere. But I would like to see more funding, no doubt about it, especially during the off season.
“I would like to see more funding for when the players work the hardest. I’ve always said it - the best way is that you get tested every let’s say quarter-final that you play in a tournament so you know there will be testers there when the prize money and the points go up.
“I think for the players minds it will be a good thing to have, and for the off season you don’t want just a few countries to do their utmost and for other countries to never test. It needs to be across the board and that’s why I think internationally it needs a lot of funding and how you get to that money is another debate but I think we could definitely do with more funding overall.”
Federer also reiterated his belief that a zero tolerance approach must be taken to match-fixing, which was publicised in January by a Buzzfeed and BBC investigation. He said: “To be honest I thought more of it would come out in Melbourne. We don’t like to see it and hear about it, but if it is there and it is real then we need to fix it as quickly as possible.”
Federer, who has been sidelined since the Wimbledon semi-final in July due to a knee injury, also praised Andy Murray for overhauling Novak Djokovic as the world No 1, and said he is expecting a tight race for the top spot in 2017. “I’m not surprised Andy did it because he’s won so many titles, and grand slams. That’s why I always expected him to be No 1 at some point,” Federer said.
“I was surprised he finished the year as No 1 because of Novak’s start but even more credit to Andy for not just being No 1 but finishing as No 1, because those are two separate things. Becoming No 1 for a week or finishing a year as world No 1 is a different animal, so I really respect in a big way that he was able to do it.
“I expect Novak to be No 1 at some point again in his career - it’ll be hard in the next few months because of the sheer domination he had at the beginning of this year so I think Andy will hang on to it for a while. But then again we have to see who stays injury-free, that plays a lot into it as well.
“It’ll be a bit of a neck and neck race for the next six months to a year. If anybody wants to break that they’ll have to win two slams, so it’s pretty much on Novak and Andy’s racket at the moment.”
But despite his long lay-off and ranking of 16, Federer still firmly believes that at 35 he could be the man to dismantle the Murray-Djokovic duopoly.
Federer is coming to the end of a month-long training block in Dubai and will begin his comeback at the Hopman Cup in Perth early next month before attempting to win his first Australian Open since 2010, and first major since 2012, a few weeks later.
On his chances of winning an 18th grand slam, Federer said: “The mindset is always very positive that it can happen and should happen, and that I’m doing everything I possibly can to achieve that. I’m very positive with my team of winning another major and winning the tough matches, and physically to be in tip-top shape when that slam semi or final comes around.
“I’ve been close but Novak had an incredible run, and it was difficult for anyone to break through him. So it’s up to us to reinvent ourselves and come up with a plan to beat Novak, and Andy has shown that a little bit and given belief to the players that there is a chance to win a slam.”
Federer also believes that having avoided injuries for almost the entirety of his career, this year's enforced break may prove to be a blessing in disguise. “I do believe it could be very beneficial to the future of my tennis career,” he said.
“I’ve had a six-month layoff to rejuvenate and refresh, and maybe mentally I needed this more than I thought I would. Maybe my body needed this more than I thought.
“It was a perfect time to take a break for my mind and body, and great to spend quality time with my kids.”