"I only ever said I would think about the ATP Rankings after the Australian Open was over,” said Federer in Rotterdam on Monday. I did not expect to win the Australian Open again and by not winning the [Nitto] ATP Finals, I never thought it would happen again and it may be out of sight. I played at the Australian Open not thinking about the rankings, but I knew I had the flexibility in February over my calendar.
"After the Australian Open was over, I thought I’d love to play Rotterdam and give it a go. Our team is very excited, that I’m here and that I will give it a go. You have to do it, not because it’s the right thing to do, but you have to be here with all your heart and really go for it. Try my very best. Having the option of getting to No. 1 is highly motivating and very exciting to say the least."
The 36-year-old would guarantee a return to No. 1 next Monday if he advances to the semi-finals in Rotterdam. If he reaches Friday’s quarter-finals, Federer could meet fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka.
"I would love to be in that position [to attain No. 1] against anybody," said Federer. "If I get back to that spot you don’t want it to happen in an easy way. The achievement would be quite incredible. It’s exciting to have Stan in my section [of the draw]."
Federer is competing at the ATP World Tour 500 tournament for the first time since capturing his sixth Australian Open crown, and his 20th Grand Slam championship, on 28 January. He opens his ninth Rotterdam campaign Wednesday against 30-year-old Belgian qualifier and World No. 116 Ruben Bemelmans. It will be the first meeting between the players.
When asked about winning three of the past five majors, Federer admitted, "If I would have won one Grand Slam I would be over the moon. In 2016, Novak [Djokovic] and Andy [Murray] were in their prime. Rafa was young enough to come back. I always believed I could do it once, [so] it's an incredible journey."
If Federer does get back to No. 1 on 19 February, the gap of five years and 106 days will be the longest between stints at No. 1. At 36, he would also become the oldest World No. 1, replacing American Andre Agassi (aged 33), who last held the top spot on 7 September 2003.
Two-time former Rotterdam champion Federer is one of seven players in the Top 20 of the ATP Rankings competing at the Dutch tournament. Grigor Dimitrov, Alexander Zverev, last year’s finalist David Goffin, 2015 winner Stan Wawrinka, 2014 champion Tomas Berdych and last week’s Open Sud de France champion Lucas Pouille also feature in the draw.