Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the good and the bad from Roger Federer’s return.

You win some and you lose some.

The old adage could not have truer last week as Roger Federer—remember him?—came back to action after something like 14 months away from the sport. In his return for the 2021 Qatar Open, the Swiss snatched one three-set win against Dan Evans before bowing down against Nikoloz Basilashvili in yet another three-set match.

The latter match against the Georgian showed just what an uphill battle this return is for a 39-year-old trying to pick things up after a 405-day layoff. The nerves and the rust inevitably played a part but it’s too simple to blame the loss strictly on that. There are folks who will say that Federer even had a match point and lost, surely it’s something that never would have happened if it weren’t for the long absence.

Right? Well, about that… Long absence or not, this is far from Federer’s first loss in a match where he squandered a match point. In fact, compared to some of his biggest historical rivals the Swiss is downright pathetic for the number of times he’s lost from match-point up.

Federer is happy, happy, happy!

That said, Federer didn’t wait all this time to come back only for us to throw dirt at him. Ultimately, it’s merely a success that he is back to competing. And anyway, if the man himself isn’t overly concerned with the loss, why should we be? Federer said that, “I would have loved to play [the next day], don’t get me wrong. But at the same time, I’m also happy to get a rest. I’m happy how I played today. I’m happy how I did yesterday.”

You can probably sense a theme here. “I’m happy I am back on the Tour. I’m pleased I came here to Doha,” he said. “So it’s really, really a positive return for me. I’m really happy.”

No word, really, on whether the Swiss had Pharrell Williams’s undeniable hit from the Despicable Me 2 stuck in his mind, but it might as well have been the case. After over a year away from the sport, Federer was and is happy and he’ll be damned if he doesn’t tell us just how precisely happy he is.

Why is this return such a big deal?

Ultimately, Federer’s return is a great thing for the sport since he’ll always be a big draw for the ATP. Do you know of many, if any, players who would command this kind of attention when their last full season has come in the previous decade?

No one.

Federer’s last season came in 2019. He went 53-10 and won four singles titles, including the Miami Masters 1000 one, and well over $7.5 million in prize money. For anyone but a very small handful of players in history, this would be just about a career year.

For the Swiss, this would have been a letdown—if we overlook the fact that he was a 37-year-old man at the start of that season. Now 39, it’s likely that this 2019 season is as good as anything will ever get again for Federer. We’re not sure anyone’s really ready for this.

A return worth celebrating on its own

The time for prognoses and predictions on what we can expect from the 39-year-old will come but for now, let’s celebrate the fact that we have our Federer back in our lives. He might be a greatly diminished version of who and what he was, but at least he’s back.

Then again, maybe he has changed a bit? While he did take time to celebrate his return and announce his withdrawal from Dubai in the tweet above, Federer still hasn’t tweeted about Novak Djokovic passing him with his 311st week atop the rankings.

Quite a strange decision from the man who’s made a career out of side-stepping every possible controversy imaginable. Quite the contrast, too, for what he wrote about Rafael Nadal merely catching up to his 20 Grand Slams last October.

Let’s just say Federer has his favourites.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG


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