LONDON — Missing his first Grand Slam event in 17 years — the French Open — was worth it to Roger Federer to be fit and confident for another Wimbledon.
Federer said at the All England Club on Saturday that he had a pinch of doubt he would miss his first Wimbledon since 1999 when he had to withdraw from the French Open because of a bad back.
“If you enter, you want to feel like you have a chance to go deep and win, and that’s why I’m here,” he said, wearing a T-shirt from his signature clothing line that read “SW19,” Wimbledon’s postal code. “This is a huge boost for me after pulling out of Paris that I’m back at my favorite tournament. It’s a huge opportunity for me to maybe turn around the season.”
The season has been phenomenally frustrating for Federer.
A day after losing in the Australian Open semifinals to Novak Djokovic, he tore left knee cartilage while running a bath for his kids. He got sick in Miami, then hurt his back in Madrid in practice. The back bothered him for a long time in 2013, so he dropped off the tour, “reset,” and prepared for the big titles he had a better chance of winning: Wimbledon, the Olympics, and the U.S. Open.
“This back has won me 88 titles, and I’m OK with that back,” he said. “It’s OK if it messes around with me sometimes.”
He said it was more painful realizing what he’d miss if he didn’t stop and recover properly. He returned to play on grass this month in Stuttgart and Halle, and reached the semifinals at both.
Those seven matches in 10 days were “crucial to me, knowing, OK, I passed that test, the body can take that amount of tennis. It’s really important for your mind to know, then you can also feel you can manage the five-setters. All of a sudden, you’re coming into Wimbledon with more confidence and knowing where you’re at.
“I’m not thinking of the title, it’s too far away. Novak and Andy [Murray] are the favorites. I need to focus on getting myself into those positions, meaning second week, growing momentum, the whole thing starts rolling then hopefully. It’s real ly important getting the job done in the first week.”
Federer hasn’t won a title in seven months, and won his record 17th and last major singles crown here four years ago. He’s lost to Djokovic in the last two finals. His bid for an eighth Wimbledon title starts against Argentine lefthander Guido Pella, whom he’s never met. Federer is in the same half as Djokovic, and second-seeded Murray is in the same half as No. 4 Stan Wawrinka.
Murray kicks off against Liam Broady, who he will also play for the first time. Murray, the 2013 champion, will face a countryman at Wimbledon for the first time. “A bit strange,” was his take on it.
If it goes to seeding, Murray could face former quarterfinalist Nick Kyrgios in the fourth round. But Kyrgios wasn’t looking past his opening match against good friend Radek Stepanek, the Czech veteran who, before the draw, offered to help the Australian practice. The offer has since been declined.
Garbine Muguruza, the new women’s world No. 2 who is seeded to meet defending champion Serena Williams in a second straight Wimbledon final, was nonchalant about having played only one competitive match on grass since beating Williams in the French Open final.
The first-round loss in the new Mallorca WTA event in her native Spain, came too soon straight after Roland Garros. Besides, it was “weird” playing on grass in Spain, and she didn’t feel like she was in Spain because of the international field. “But the crowd was with me, it was cool,” she said.
She felt no extra pressure as a new major champion. “I don’t feel different,” Muguruza said. “I’m not taking anything for granted. I start like everyone else, from zero.”