STUTTGART, Germany - The first three months of the 2017 season undoubtedly belonged to Roger Federer, as the former World No.1 swept the three biggest titles - the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami - and, after a six-month injury lay-off, fully reasserted himself at the top of the sport.
But the last two months undoubtedly belonged to Rafael Nadal, who dominated the clay court season, starting with three straight titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid, and then - after falling in the quarterfinals of Rome to Dominic Thiem - winning an unprecedented 10th French Open crown.
It was the latest chapter in the 2017 revival of two of the most beloved players in the history of tennis, and while it’s one of the all-time toughest rivalries, the two have nothing but respect for each other.
Case in point, Federer was asked during a pre-tournament interview at this week’s Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart about he and Nadal’s revivals this year - and he heaped praise on his Spanish rival.
“I was terribly surprised to win the Australian Open and then back it up in Indian Wells and Miami,” Federer said, “but I think Rafa winning the French Open is less of a surprise because he’s already done it nine times before, now 10, which is absolutely gigantic. It was incredible, really, simply that.
“I was hoping that he was going to dominate the clay court season like he did in the olden days.”
Federer skipped the clay court season to prepare for the grass court season, and though he didn’t come away with a win this week - he lost to Tommy Haas on Wednesday - he’s looking to make a serious run towards the top during the second half of the year, saying he’s playing a full schedule.
“There are no more breaks now. I’ve had enough breaks. I’m a practice world champion now - that’s not who I want to be, I want to be a champion on the match courts, so I’m going to be playing a regular schedule for the second part of the season. So this is what it’s about now, playing matches.”
Watch the full ATP World Tour interview right here: