PARIS (Reuters) - While boosting his Wimbledon hopes, Roger Federer’s decision to skip the French Open has dented the Parisian Grand Slam event and hurt the very sport that made him a global superstar, Mats Wilander told Reuters.
“I’m not criticizing his decision but the tennis world needs him,” the Swedish former world number one said.
“Along with Nadal, he is literally still the world of men’s tennis, and to not play a Grand Slam on a surface that we play for two months, on which everybody has grown up on, to not come to the showpiece of claycourt tennis, it hurts the tournament, it hurts professional tennis, it hurts men’s tennis.”
For the second year running Federer, who owns 20 Grand Slam titles, decided to skip the entire claycourt season to conserve his energy and his knees for another tilt at Wimbledon.
While to many the Swiss maestro has earned the right to choose his schedule as he approaches his 37th birthday, Wilander maintains he should be in Paris.
“No, I don’t think he was right to skip the French,” the host of Eurosport’s flagship French Open show ‘Game, Schett and Mats’ added.
“I understand 100 percent why he would skip the French because he doesn’t want to get used to clay and he’s 37-years-old and all that.
“(But) he could come here, practice a week, maybe lose first round. How much can that dent your confidence? And how will that change your preparation for Wimbledon? Nothing.”
Federer completed his career grand slam in 2009 when he beat Robin Soderling in one of only three years since 2005 that his claycourt nemesis Rafael Nadal did not win the French title.
He also made the 2011 final but, after a stunning return from injury to win his first Grand Slam title for five years at last year’s Australian Open, Federer has steered away from clay to protect the knee on which he had minor surgery in 2016.
“I can understand it but I think at the same time he could play the French,” Wilander, who won the French title in 1982, 1985 and 1988 said. “Federer is bigger than the professional sport but he is not bigger than the game of tennis.”
Wilander says Federer’s absence is even more conspicuous considering fellow 36-year-old Serena Williams battled to the fourth round this year having returned from maternity leave.
“It’s unfortunate and I think Serena must get a lot of credit (for trying) to come and do that,” he said.
“It’s not a criticism but it’s a shame. It’s not like it’s (fast court specialist) Pete Sampras. Roger knows how to play on this surface. He wouldn’t have got hurt.
“He said it’s about being competitive. But I think it’s about him coming here to compete. I played this tournament many times when I wasn’t competitive but I still came to compete.
“Ninety five percent of the field is not competitive when Nadal is playing. You should play all the slams you physically can.
“There is not one single person who walks through these gates here and doesn’t miss Roger Federer, and he knows that.
“We are disappointed in a constructive way. I don’t blame him but would have loved to see him here.”
Wilander makes Federer favorite to win a ninth Wimbledon title though. “Of course, because he’s not here! He’s a smart devil Roger! Wimbledon without him would be a disaster.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar