Roger Federer could be a dark horse to win this year’s French Open title ahead of defending champion Rafael Nadal, according to former quarter-finalist Jimmy Arias. The Swiss icon made a disappointing return from injury at the Qatar Open last month, bowing out at the hands of eventual winner Nikoloz Basilashvili, but will be hoping for an improved performance at Roland Garros in his search for a 21st Grand Slam triumph.
Federer missed the vast majority of last season with a troublesome knee injury that required two operations, with the upcoming French Open set to mark his first appearance at a European major for more than two years.
The 39-year-old has previously admitted that success at Wimbledon will be his main priority for the year ahead, while the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer are likely to represent his final opportunity to win a singles gold medal.
However, the possibility of a strong campaign at Roland Garros will undoubtedly be in the back of his mind, with the tournament scheduled to get underway on May 24.
Arias, who is a former top five player, has suggested that Federer could claim the top prize ahead of hot favourite Nadal.
The experienced Spaniard has gained a formidable reputation on clay over the course of his long and successful career, but Arias is refusing to rule out the prospect of Federer taking his crown this year in what would be a sensational return to the Grand Slam circuit.
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“I’m sure if things start going well at Roland Garros and he’s making a little run, then he’s not gonna just be thinking about Wimbledon,” Arias told Tennishead.
“Obviously, he’s gonna want to win any Major that he can, and he probably still is the third or fourth best player on clay right now, so why not? If things open up for him, why not?
“I would put Stefanos Tsitsipas out there with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic among the Roland Garros favourites. I’m leaving Dominic Thiem out until I see him playing in Madrid and Rome.
“Roger is undoubtedly in the mix, and you can’t count him out at any time.”
It remains to be seen whether the Basel native will be fit and sharp enough to pose a serious threat to Nadal’s dominance at Roland Garros when the French Open begins next month.
Federer previously announced his intentions to use the clay season to achieve peak fitness for Wimbledon, with his physical condition still in need of fine-tuning after spending more than 12 months on the treatment table.
“I don’t know how many months that is till Wimbledon, maybe four months or so, I think we’ve just got to take a real good look at the schedule,” he told reporters last month.
“I think matches are important. What comes before the grass courts are the clay courts. So from that standpoint, I have no choice but to play on clay if I want to play matches.
“It could be good for me, the clay. It could be bad for me. So I will only know in practice, but I don’t think it’s going to be bad, to be honest.
“I assume I will play some clay. The question is what. We have a vague idea, but we said let’s wait for Doha and potentially Dubai to potentially make any decisions for that.
“Fitness comes first and then we’ll see what comes after. Everything is geared towards the grass. So whatever makes me be 100 per cent there, I will do.”