After dealing with knee injuries the past several seasons, 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer has gradually worked his way back to the ATP Tour, with a focus on conservation and preservation as he gets closer to the end of his career.

But if the end is indeed approaching, should he throw caution to the wind and compete as much as he can? Rest is, of course, important—especially for someone approaching 40, who’s played a lifetime of tennis. However, fighting off the impact of rust on one’s game is important, too, and practice time can’t perfectly replicate actual match conditions.

For Federer, could his straight-set quarterfinal loss to Hubert Hurkacz—one that saw him drop the third 6-0—be traced back to a decision made several weeks ago at Roland Garros? There, the 2009 champion battled through to the fourth round, only to grant his opponent Matteo Berrettini a walkover as he decided to focus on conserving his energy for the grass-court season.


Paris was only the third tournament of the year for the Swiss, and marked the first time in 2021 that he had won consecutive matches. Though he wouldn’t have been a favorite against the Italian in the round of 16, momentum was on Federer’s side and every ball played in match conditions could have helped sharpen him up for the weeks ahead.

The grass-court stretch got off to a particularly rough start, where Federer won only one match in Halle—far from ideal preparation for the tournament that carries the biggest impact on his legacy. At Wimbledon, he barely escaped the first round, advancing when Adrian Mannarino had to retire before the fifth set of their match. The Swiss seemingly settled into a groove from there before being upended against Hurkacz, a young player from Poland in the midst of a career-best season.

Looking at that match, it could be said that Federer wasn’t at his sharpest, though much of that had to do with Hurkacz. Still, Federer dropping a set 6-0 has been one of the rarest events in the men’s game over the past two decades, and if anything, indicates that more match play could be the answer to help avoid another similar score.

Until he does decide to walk away from the game for good, Federer will be a threat at any tournament he enters. And the same could be said of Serena Williams, another one of the game’s all-time greats on the cusp of turning 40. What the two future Hall of Famers are doing is unprecedented: maintaining a Top 10 ranking at such an advanced age. There’s a whole wave of young contenders, though, eager to stop them, forcing them to be at their best every time out.

To fend them off, the older players have to be at their sharpest and as their careers near an end, match play as opposed to rest might be the best way to meet the challenge.