Roger Federer’s record run at the Australian Open is over with the Swiss maestro electing to skip the opening grand slam of the year as he continues his recovery from knee surgery.
It brings to an end a streak of 21 consecutive appearances at the Open – the most by any player – and is a blow to the rescheduled tournament with Federer a clear crowd favourite.
Federer was last week voted “Fans’ Favourite” for the 18th year in a row at the ATP Awards, despite not playing a tournament since this year’s Open, and always draws a big following at Melbourne Park.
Australian Open boss Craig Tiley confirmed on Monday that the six-time champion had withdrawn but said he hoped to see Federer back in 2022.
The men’s and women’s fields are otherwise expected to be at full strength with the tournament getting under way on February 8.
“In the end Roger ran out of time to get himself ready for the rigours of a grand slam and he’s very disappointed he won’t be coming to Melbourne in 2021,” Tiley said in a statement.
“The Australian Open has always held a special place in his heart – remember it was Roger who first called the AO the ‘happy slam’.
We wish him all the best as he prepares for his comeback later in the year and look forward to seeing him in Melbourne in 2022.”
Tony Godsick – Federer’s long-time representative and CEO of their management company, TEAM8 – said Federer was making strong progress after two rounds of knee surgery, but wasn’t ready for the opening slam of the year.
Federer, currently ranked world No.5, has been training in Dubai, which many took as a sign he was preparing for the Australian heat.
However, with input from his coaches Severin Luthi and Ivan Ljubicic and fitness coach Pierre Paganini, the decision was made for the 39-year-old to skip the Open, which was delayed three weeks due to quarantine requirements in Australia forced by the coronavirus pandemic.
“After consultation with his team, he decided that the best decision for him in the long run is to return to competitive tennis after the Australian Open,” Godsick said in a statement.
Federer intends to play at Wimbledon, the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics and the US Open and hasn’t indicated any retirement plans.
However, his absence from Melbourne leaves the door open for Rafael Nadal to win a record-setting 21st grand slam title – to move one clear of Federer.
Just weeks after losing in straight sets in the semi-finals of the Australian Open to eventual champion Novak Djokovic in January, Federer underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and then had a second procedure which ruled him off the ATP Tour for the remainder of the season.
World No.1 Djokovic will be gunning for his third successive and ninth overall title at Melbourne Park, while Nadal joined Federer with 20 major titles after claiming this year’s French Open.
World No.3 Dominic Thiem will start among the favourites after winning his first grand slam trophy at the US Open in September and pushing Djokovic to a fifth set in the final of the Australian Open.
Earlier, fan favourites Andy Murray and Thanasi Kokkinakis were awarded wildcards into the Open.
Former world No.1 Murray, a five-time Melbourne Park finalist, has slipped to 122nd in the rankings after several years battling hip injuries.
The Brit even made a teary retirement announcement in Melbourne two years ago before undergoing a second round of surgery to save his career.
“We welcome Andy back to Melbourne with open arms,” Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said.
“As a five-time finalist he has been an integral part of so many amazing matches and storylines in the recent history of the Australian Open.
Christmas has come early for these #AO2021 wildcards.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) December 23, 2020
“His retirement was an emotional moment and seeing him come back, having undergone major surgery and build himself back up to get onto the tour again, will be a highlight of AO 2021.”
Kokkinakis has endured his own injury struggles, too many to mention, and hasn’t played a tour match since the 2019 US Open.
But the one-time world No.69 and Australian Davis Cup star did win a pair of UTR Pro Tennis Series events at Melbourne Park last month, a sign he is finding form at just the right time.
— Thanasi Kokkinakis (@TKokkinakis) November 26, 2020
Kokkinakis missed the 2020 Open due to glandular fever, having finally regained full fitness in the lead-up.
“I’m super happy and thankful to have gotten a wildcard into the AO,” Kokkinakis said.
“Shattered I couldn’t play this year due to illness but I’m feeling great now and can’t wait to get out in front of the home crowd and have some fun.”
Other wildcard recipients revealed on Sunday night include Alex Bolt and Aleksandar Vukic.
Bolt, who stretched eventual finalist Dominic Thiem to five sets in the second round at this year’s Australian Open, reached the Launceston Challenger final a month before professional tennis was suspended due to COVID-19.
Vukic, a Monterrey Challenger finalist in early March, was impressive when tennis resumed in August, winning nine of his 14 matches including three to qualify for the French Open main draw.
Fellow Australians Destanee Aiava and Arina Rodionova gained wildcards into the women’s 128-strong draw.
Indian Sumit Nagal and China’s Wang Xiyu were awarded the wildcards of Asia-Pacific for the men’s and women’s main draw respectively.
Tennis Australia also handed some of Australia’s brightest young talents entry to the men’s and women’s Open qualifying events.
Looking for inspiration on court this summer?
Our top-ranked players served up many important lessons in 2020https://t.co/lYIdC1C7Xj
— TennisAustralia (@TennisAustralia) December 27, 2020
Men’s Main Draw wildcards
Christopher O’Connell (Aus), Marc Polmans (Aus), Alex Bolt (Aus), Thanasi Kokkinakis (Aus), Aleksandar Vukic (Aus), Andy Murray (GB), Sumit Nagal (Ind), one TBD
Women’s Main Draw wildcards
Daria Gavrilova (Aus), Astra Sharma (Aus), Maddison Inglis (Aus), Lizette Cabrera (Aus), Arina Rodionova (Aus), Destanee Aiava (Aus), Wang Xiyu (China), one TBD
Men’s Qualifying wildcards, January 10-13, Doha
Tristan Schoolkate (Aus), Jason Kubler (Aus), Akira Santillan (Aus), Rinky Hijikata (Aus), Dane Sweeny (Aus), Max Purcell (Aus), Blake Mott (Aus), Harold Mayot (Fra)
Women’s Qualifying wildcards, January 10-13, Doha
Abbie Myers (Aus), Seone Mendez (Aus), Storm Sanders (Aus), Ivana Popovic (Aus), Olivia Gadecki (Aus), Charlotte Kempenaers-Pocz (Aus), Alexandra Bozovic (Aus), Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva (And)