Wimbledon is set to kick off without Roger Federer for the first time in over two decades next week and with the clock ticking down on the Swiss maestro’s career John McEnroe said he was grateful for being able to watch him play the sport for so long.
Federer, who turns 41 in August, has undergone three knee operations in the last two years and has not played a competitive match since his quarter-final defeat to Hubert Hurkacz at last year’s grasscourt Grand Slam.
He won the Wimbledon junior title in 1998 before turning professional the same year.
Since making his debut at the grasscourt Grand Slam in 1999 Federer had not missed a single edition before the 2022 tournament.
“Twenty years, you got to look at the bright side,” seven-times major winner and ESPN analyst McEnroe told reporters. “You had a lot of time where you got a chance to watch this guy play and win it numerous times. So, we have to sort of hope that whatever he decides he’s happy with. He’s 40. He’s made it this far. It’s amazing.”
Federer, who has won a record eight men’s titles at the All England Club, said this month that he is “definitely” intending to return to top-level tennis in 2023.
The 20-time Grand Slam winner is expected to return to the tour in September when he teams up with Spaniard Rafa Nadal to play doubles at the Laver Cup in London before playing at the Swiss indoors tournament at home in Basel the following month.
“Roger Federer is a living legend. We all know that,” McEnroe added during a video conference call on Wednesday.
“He’s the epitome of what you would want your kid to be when they grew up. And he’s the most beautiful player I’ve ever watched play. I idolized (Rod) Laver. He’s kind of an updated Laver to me.”
Exhibition matches ‘perfect’ prep for Nadal
Rafa Nadal played his first grasscourt match in three years on Wednesday and the Spaniard says a couple of exhibition games at the Hurlingham Club is the perfect preparation for Wimbledon, where he will bid for a third straight Grand Slam this season.
Nadal won the Australian and French Opens back-to-back for the first time and a win at Wimbledon, where the main draw kicks off on Monday, will take him a step closer to becoming the first man to win all four majors in the same year since Rod Laver in 1969.
The Spaniard, who had not played a competitive match on grass since his 2019 semi-final loss at Wimbledon to Roger Federer, beat Stan Wawrinka 6-2 6-3 on Wednesday and said it was good to get the feel of the surface again.
“It has been a while without playing on grass,” he told reporters. “Since 2019 I haven’t been able to play on grass through the tough moments we went through with the pandemic and last year I got injured.
“I am older now – I can’t manage to play so many matches. For me it is perfect to play a couple of matches here before Wimbledon starts. That helps me to feel at least some competition before Wimbledon.”
Nadal, who holds a men’s record 22 Grand Slam titles, has struggled with a chronic foot injury over the last year and had pain-killing injections prior to each match at Roland Garros.
The 36-year-old underwent radio frequency treatment after his French Open victory and said the pain had subsided.
“I don’t know how he is feeling, it looks like normal Rafa,” said three-time major champion Wawrinka. “He has been saying he is feeling better and if he is playing he is ready to play his best and to win.”
Novak Djokovic, who has won Wimbledon the last three times, also played at London’s Hurlingham Club on Wednesday, defeating Canada’s world number nine Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-2 6-1.