Roger Federer’s withdrawal from the 2021 Australian Open was made official this week, as he continues his recovery from a right knee injury—he’s expected to return shortly after the first Grand Slam of the year. His last tournament was the 2020 Australian Open, where he made the semis.
Since Federer started playing majors in 1999, this will be the seventh he’s missed (not including falling in qualifying in two of the first four he played at the Australian and US Opens that year):
~ 2016 French Open: back injury
~ 2016 US Open: left knee injury
~ 2017 French Open: focusing on grass court season
~ 2018 French Open: focusing on grass court season
~ 2020 US Open: right knee injury
~ 2020 French Open: right knee injury
~ 2021 Australian Open: right knee injury
After not missing a single one for 16 years, Federer will now have missed seven of the last 19 majors. That puts him in between the other two members of the Big 3 in terms of career withdrawals from Slams: Rafael Nadal has missed 10 since he first started playing the majors in 2003, while Novak Djokovic has only missed one since he started playing the majors in 2005 (the 2017 US Open).
And speaking of Nadal and Djokovic, all eyes will be on them in Melbourne as the Grand Slam race heats up. The Spaniard is going for his 21st major, which would pass Federer for the record, while Novak Djokovic is going for his 18th major, which would get him within two of Federer and Nadal.
The six previous times Federer has missed a major, Nadal and Djokovic have won the title four times (but those were all French Opens, and when it was another major, neither of them won):
~ 2016 French Open: Djokovic won (d. Murray in final) [Nadal withdrew before 3rd Rd match]
~ 2016 US Open: Wawrinka won (d. Djokovic in final) [Nadal lost in 4th Rd to Pouille]
~ 2017 French Open: Nadal won (d. Wawrinka in final) [Djokovic lost in QFs to Thiem]
~ 2018 French Open: Nadal won (d. Thiem in final) [Djokovic lost in QFs to Cecchinato]
~ 2020 US Open: Thiem won (d. Zverev in final) [Nadal did not play, Djokovic defaulted in 4th Rd]
~ 2020 French Open: Nadal won (d. Djokovic in final)
Looking ahead, it’s possible that Federer could make his return to action as early as February, right after the Australian Open. “I will start discussions this coming week for tournaments that begin in late February, and then start to build a schedule for the rest of the year,” his agent, Tony Godsick, said.
So how has Federer done in the past after missing majors? Quite well, in fact. After missing the 2016 French Open, he reached three straight semifinals in his first three events back on grass, including Wimbledon. After missing the 2016 US Open, he went 19-1 to kick off 2017, including winning the Australian Open. After missing the 2017 French Open, he won 16 of his next 17 matches, including winning Wimbledon. And after missing the 2018 French Open he won 12 of his first 14 matches back.
This is the first time the 20-time Grand Slam champion has missed multiple majors in a row, though—once he’s back, he’ll have actually gone more than a year without having played a tour-level match, which is by far the longest lay-off of his professional career. But given everything he’s accomplished in his career— and everything at stake in 2021—he’ll definitely be one to watch upon his return.