A first Masters title in Rome won’t be in the cards for Roger Federer this spring, nor will a third clay Masters title in Madrid. According to the well-connected Swiss tennis writer Rene Stauffer, the 38-year-old world No. 3 will only play one tournament on clay in 2020: the biggest one of all, Roland Garros.
Just got the confirmation from Tony Godsick that rumours are not true that @rogerfederer will play Masters-Tournaments in Rome and Madrid 2020. Probably only Roland Garros on clay— rene stauffer (@staffsky) February 13, 2020
Like his tennis apparel, Federer has tapered his clay-court schedule since 2017, when he skipped the entire clay-court season, including Roland Garros. He did the same in 2018 before competing in Madrid, Rome and Paris last year. Federer reached the quarterfinals of both Masters tournaments, then made the semifinals of Roland Garros in his first appearance on the terre battue since 2015 (he missed the 2016 French Open with an injury). Rafael Nadal, the 12-time French Open champion, improved his record against Federer at Roland Garros to 6-0 with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 win.
In terms of clay-court success, Madrid has been something of an outlier for Federer. It’s the only clay-court Masters title in his collection; depending on how you classify the event, the Swiss has won it six times. From 2002 to 2007, Federer won Hamburg—whose Masters designation would move to Madrid (which was formerly a hard-court Masters tournament, to add to the confusion)—four times. The 2002 victory was his first Masters title, and he capped his 2007 triumph in Hamburg with a 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 win over Nadal, ending the Spaniard’s 81-match unbeaten streak on clay courts.
Since Hamburg “became” Madrid in 2009, Federer has won the event twice—in its inaugural edition, over Nadal, and in 2012, when the tournament was held on blue clay.
Federer’s success in Rome has been limited to deep runs. He’s reached the final four times, losing in 2003 to Felix Mantilla, in 2006 and 2013 to Nadal, and in 2015 to Novak Djokovic.
At the Australian Open, where Federer lost to Djokovic in a straight-set semifinal, the 20-time Grand Slam champion was asked if he still believed he could add to his major title haul.
"Yes," he replied, "I do believe that. I think by having the year that I had last year, also with what I have in my game, how I'm playing, I do feel that."
Then Federer was asked if Wimbledon, the Slam he's won eight times, would be his best shot at winning a title of any sort.
"Probably Basel or Halle," he responded with a smile. "Less matches to play."
With today's news, Federer will enter the grass-court season with an ample amount of rest—roughly seven weeks off between Miami and Roland Garros—but, of course, two less opportunities to win another title.