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Looking ahead: Not all lost for Federer thanks to grass-court pedigree

Looking ahead: Not all lost for Federer thanks to grass-court pedigree

Though his ranking will take a hit while nursing a right knee injury, the 20-time major champion could still have a shot at being seeded inside the Top 4 at Wimbledon.

With world No. 3 Roger Federer announcing that he has undergone arthroscopic right knee surgery, resulting in his withdrawal of all planned tournaments through the French Open, the 20-time major champion will drop to his lowest ATP points total—3,950—since March 5, 2017, when the grass-court season begins in June.

It’s no secret that Federer’s best shot to win another major is at Wimbledon, and he’ll have some help in maintaining his standing thanks to his still-sizable points haul, and his pedigree on grass.

In reviewing tour-wide ranking point totals on the Mondays after Roland Garros, over the last five years, Federer's projected total of 3,950 points should keep him in the Top 10. In 2019, 3,950 points was good enough for No. 8; in 2018, No. 7; in 2017, No. 9; in 2016, No. 7; in 2015, No. 9.

Hypothetically, if Federer didn’t play any grass-court tennis (or earned zero wins) leading up to Wimbledon, his point total would come in at 3,450. But with Wimbledon’s seeding formula, which adds in 100% of points earned from grass-court events over the past 12 months (starting the week before 2019 Wimbledon), plus 75% of points earned from the single best grass-court event from the 12 months before that, the 38-year-old would receive the following boosts:

+1,200 points for reaching the 2019 Wimbledon final PLUS any points earned at 2020 grass-court tournaments (for example, Stuttgart and Halle, which Federer may play)
+375 points for winning the 2019 ATP 500 tournament in Halle

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With a minimum of 5,025 points going into his seeding at the All England Club (3,450 + 1,200 + 375), it’s all but assured that Federer will remain in the Top 8 come Wimbledon. His chances at grabbing the No. 4 seed—to avoid the possibility of landing in quarters of the draw with perennial rivals Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal—will be greatly impacted on whether he plays and performs well at Halle (and Stuttgart, if he enters both), along with how Dominic Thiem backs up his upcoming points. An 11th Halle crown would propel the 38-year-old to 6,025 points thanks to the bonus (500 points for winning the title, plus 100% bonus points), and Stuttgart would provide the opportunity to accumulate up to 500 additional points (250 plus the 100% bonus).

Currently at 7,045 points and with a chance to tack on a maximum of 410 points this week in Rio de Janeiro, world No. 4 Thiem will have 3,170 points to defend before the grass swing, with his biggest hauls coming at Roland Garros (1,200), Indian Wells (1,000) and Barcelona (500). Even if his title defense at the BNP Paribas Open falls well short in two weeks, the Austrian has plenty of room to make up for it, most notably during the European clay season. In Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome, Thiem combined for a modest 460 points in 2019. He won’t have any help with Wimbledon’s formula, as the three-time Grand Slam finalist owns just one victory on grass over the last two years.

One has to think current No. 5 Daniil Medvedev has the strongest odds to be seeded third or fourth, with his ranking (currently on 5,890 points) established by the torrid hard-court stretch that saw the Russian reach six consecutive finals, including the US Open, between August and October. Last year, the 23-year-old came out firing on red dirt, upstaging Djokovic to reach the Monte Carlo semifinals (360 points) before finishing runner-up to Thiem in Barcelona (300 points). His loss to Thiem would ignite four successive defeats on clay, and Medvedev's struggles carried into his grass-court opener in Stuttgart.

There will be ample opportunities for Medvedev to earn additional ranking points before Wimbledon and ultimately play his part in preventing Federer from claiming a Top 4 seed. The last time Federer wasn't seeded No. 4 or better at the event came in 2002 (No. 7), the year before his first of eight future triumphs.