Monday 11 July 2022 was a strange day. It was the day Federer became unranked, something he had not experienced since 1997.
Despite this setback, Federer has made his intentions clear – the Laver Cup and Basel Masters in the Autumn will see his return to the ATP Tour.
The question then becomes – how does Federer participate in tournaments if he does not hold a ranking?
There are multiple ways Federer could mount a comeback, but some options immediately become apparent.
Each has its own set of benefits and drawbacks. But only one resumes Federer’s career where we left off after that Wimbledon quarter-final match, back in 2021.
The first is that Federer attempts to build his ranking on the Challenger Tour and the middling levels of the ITF circuit. This would have to be a long-term approach.
If Federer chose this option, he would have the eventual goal of returning to the ATP Tour and helping to cement his ranking in the upper echelons of the top 100 once again.
This would effectively be a slow reset of his career and put it back on track to where it was. However, he could endure what could become a hard slog against up-and-coming younger players, who might be more able to physically deal with long and grinding matches, particularly on clay.
The second option, which I think will be the route to the Basel ATP 500, is a temporary reliance on wildcards, and the idea in the minds of tournament organisers, that Federer would bring a boost in enjoyment and ticket sales for any event.
In recent years, Andy Murray and Kim Clijsters have benefited from wildcards, helping to kick-start the accumulation of ranking points and competitive experience.
Murray benefited from wildcards during 2021, reaching the finals of the Biella Challenger, and heightened his ranking to a respectable fifty by 2022.
The Brit was also able to make a Grand Slam appearance at Wimbledon this year, showcasing his determination in a tough match against James Duckworth in the opening round.
Federer still has the chance to play tennis on the big stage and create more “Federesque” moments of joy. The downside is that wildcards can’t always be guaranteed, while the short notice of draw entry could muddle training schedules and preparation.
Another option is high-level exhibition tennis. This would mean events limited, or akin to, the Laver Cup and Match for Africa.
These would not be a route for Federer to build ranking points, though, given his schedule, he is looking for a blend of professional tournaments and exhibition tennis.
Events like the Laver Cup will inevitably keep Federer in good shape regarding match practice and movement. But exhibition tennis alone might be too small a scope for Federer. With great battles continuing on big stages such as Arthur Ashe and Philippe Chatrier, mentally, Federer could feel he has to keep active on the ATP Tour. Otherwise, exhibition tennis is just a passing fancy.
The last and most unlikely option is for Federer to join the doubles circuit or the Champions Tour. For the same reason that exhibition tennis alone would probably not yield enough satisfaction, I can’t see Federer playing on the Champions Tour.
If the need ever arose, it does provide Federer with the opportunity to reward his fans in the future with what would be a hotly anticipated event. Federer is somewhat over-qualified here, with entrants needing to have either held the number one ranking, appeared in a major final, or been a singles player in a victorious Davis Cup Team.
Though his preference is singles, the doubles would give Federer a big chance to win more grand slam titles. His volleying skills, in particular, would bear good results here. Nevertheless, he would need to rebuild his singles ranking first to qualify.
How do you think Federer will return to the tour? Will he be able to fulfil his desired schedule? Are there any other viable options? Leave your comments below.