Tennis has an inherent air of unpredictability and surprise. Breakthrough stars that were previously unheard of can win slams.
Matches that seem to be going one way can turn on a dime and favour the other player.
Veterans of the tour who have previously enjoyed little success, can have a sudden improvement in form and climb the rankings.
As Federer fans look ahead, 2022 has the same ambiguous quality. This year became a test at what level, and for how long, Federer would continue to play.
After having two operations on his right knee Federer’s 2020 season was cut short, only playing the Australian Open.
In 2021 he returned to the tour at Doha, taking a few wins here and there, later achieving a decent run at Wimbledon.
A third knee surgery has only added further concern about how many more times we’ll get to see Federer play.
However, there are some clues that may guide us in piecing together what his 2022 schedule might look like.
The biggest priority for Federer will likely be getting ready for Wimbledon, as it was this year. It is of course his favourite tournament while being the home of his first major and the event that every tennis fan associates him with.
After losing to Hubert Hurkacz in the quarter-finals 6-0, it is probable that Federer will not want to end his time there with such a result, and put in a better performance.
This year Federer was initially hampered by lack of match experience. In Doha and Geneva especially, his movement seemed up to the task but his unforced error count was unusually high.
I suspect there will be an earlier emphasis on competition, sharpening Federer’s game to the best it can be in high-pressure scenarios that only tournaments can provide for.
Though it is still not known when Federer will be able to return, before the surgery he was looking ahead to his grass-court preparation, signing up for Halle next year.
If Federer does recover for the spring, Stuttgart and Halle are bound to be on Federer’s calendar before Wimbledon.
The second thing to note is that if Federer’s body does not allow him to compete at a high level, he will likely transition to exhibition play.
After making a surprise appearance at the Laver Cup, Jim Courier interviewed Federer:
“We didn’t even know you were coming to Boston. We know about the sneak attacks when you get into the net on the second serve, when was this sneak attack launched?”
“Not too long ago. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it and then we thought we’d keep it real nice and quiet that I’m coming, because then maybe…the teams and everybody would be even more pumped up that I made the trip. I just didn’t think I was going to make it with the crutches and all that, but the reception I received and everybody was so upbeat…I’m really happy I made it.”
Federer clearly still has a zeal for the tournament he helped create and still uses big events like these to connect with his fans.
Even if he’s not able to perform on the tour, exhibition tennis gives him the opportunity to reaffirm relationships with other players, express his competitive edge and play the sport he loves.
In another interview last month Federer stated, “I still want to play exhibitions down the road”, with events like the Match in Africa providing a big part of his wider charitable support and philanthropy.
Moreover, how could Federer turn down a recent offer from Nadal, to play doubles at the Laver Cup next year?
Far from abandoning tennis altogether, Federer will continue to be a visual treat, either in-person or broadcast.
Sadly, not even Federer can escape the passage of time and the rigours of the professional tour. A lengthy career and deep runs in tournaments have clearly taken their toll on his body.
Despite this, his love for the game seems ever-lasting, and fans should cherish the spectacle of watching Federer for as long as he continues to play.