Swiss tennis star Roger Federer is set to make a return to clay court tennis after a three-year hiatus from the surface.
The world number four will be in action at the Madrid Open, starting on Monday, for his first competitive clay outing since the Italian Open in 2016.
Post-operative knee concerns and back issues had forced the 37-year-old to sit out the last three seasons on the physically taxing European dirt and focus on faster surfaces – hard and grass.
“I’m very excited. It’s a good challenge, a good test. Confidence, I don’t know, it’s in no-man’s land. I have to start from scratch,” said Federer after winning his most recent title in Miami.
“I’m taking baby steps at this point. To be honest, I didn’t play one point – not one shot on clay last year. Two years ago I played two days.”
Clay court drills with @rogerfederer 😎
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) May 5, 2019
Over a two-decade illustrious career, Federer has won 101 titles, including 20 Grand Slams, but only 11 of those victories have come on the slow clay.
The Swiss national, winner of the 2009 French Open, has been on the losing end to his Spanish rival Rafael Nadal in four finals – in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011 – on the Parisian dirt.
Federer’s last clay title was in Istanbul in 2015, the same year which saw his last Roland-Garros appearance end with a quarter-final exit at the hands of close friend Stan Wawrinka.
“I’m not very confident going into this clay court season, I can tell you that,” said Federer. “I don’t even remember how to slide any more.”
The Madrid tournament also features world number one Novak Djokovic, defending champion Alexander Zverev, 2018 French Open finalist Dominic Thiem and five-time champion Nadal.
“Roger is still very hungry,” Federer’s coach and former player Ivan Ljubicic told Sky Sports Italia.
“And he has got used to playing on clay again pretty quickly.”