A few years ago, Roger Federer let slip that he hoped to be competitive – and by that he meant still being in the running to win more grand slam titles and be No 1 – until he was about 35. There were more than a few sceptical looks around the interview room that day but as usual, perhaps Federer knew better than everyone what he might be capable of and what might be possible.
The announcement last week of his schedule for 2013 was another sign that longevity is very much in his mind. Miami is gone from his Masters 1000 commitments and he is not down to play Monte Carlo, while Doha is dropped at the start of the year and even his hometown event in Basle falls by the wayside.
Now the cynics will say that he will not be playing in Miami because he is no longer with IMG, which owns the tournament, while a reported row over appearance money in Basle means that perhaps it was an easy decision to miss that one too. The schedule is all subject to change but streamlining his schedule makes an awful lot of sense.
The reason he can do it is that he has accrued a number of exemptions over time, to the point where he is no longer required to commit to playing eight Masters 1000s, as the rest of the top players do. The ATP rules allow players to drop one Masters 1000 commitment according to the following criteria; when they have played more than 600 matches, spent 12 full years on Tour and are 31 or older on January 1 of the relevant year. When they fulfil all three, as Federer does, they have complete exemption.
So Federer is free to play as few Masters 1000s as he likes, without being fined, which opens up a world of possibility, especially with regard to extending his career. His choices of events to skip make obvious sense; Miami is gruelling and Monte Carlo is the slowest of the clay Masters and Rafa Nadal has won it in each of the past eight years anyway. Doha is at the start of the year and he has given Basle many years of service. He may well end up playing Basle anyway, or Monte Carlo, depending on results, but his plans look sound.
Moreover, what Federer is doing is building into his year three lengthy breaks. After Indian Wells, it’s seven weeks until his next tournament in Madrid. Even if he chooses to play Davis Cup in that time, he’ll be able to take a good month off. There is four weeks between Wimbledon and Montreal and then another four between the US Open and Shanghai. All of it is designed to give him rest, which at 31 he will need more than ever, and keep him mentally fresh.
Federer is not the only man who has no commitments from 2013. Lleyton Hewitt and Nikolay Davydenko can both pick and choose their Masters 1000 events, if they qualify by ranking of course. In fact, Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero, who retired at the end of the season, actually had no Masters 1000 commitments to fulfil in 2012. In addition, the likes of Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer can drop one Masters 1000s because they have each played more than 600 matches.
Pre-supposing Federer sticks to his schedule and qualifies for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, he will play 15 events, which is actually only two fewer than in 2012, a year that included the Olympics. This total (and the 2012 figure) doesn’t include Davis Cup, which he has yet to commit to.
Dropping Miami and Monte Carlo (even though he didn’t play there in 2012 either) means he is missing out on a potential 2,000 points, which makes getting back to No 1 again that much more difficult. But the key is that the breaks should help him stay competitive. And that’s what he wants. Not for the first time, he will be the envy of his rivals.