Roger Federer’s first opponent at the Geneva Open, as the 20-time Grand Slam champion continues his injury comeback after a year out, knows all about how hard it is to return to tennis after multiple surgeries.
Federer faces world No 75 Pablo Andujar in Switzerland on Tuesday as he bids to find his form before the French Open, Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympics.
The Swiss great, 39, is attempting to get back to the top of the sport after double surgery on his knee – while Spain’s Andujar, 35, was out from March 2016 to January 2018, undergoing triple elbow surgery.
“I feel sympathy with all the players that have been struggling with long-term injuries and of course Roger is one of them – and I know how difficult it is,” Andujar told reporters.
“Sometimes you try to come back and it hurts and you have a lot of doubts and for sure, it’s very difficult for your mentality.
“But I think with the level he’s got and how he plays, if he’s 100 percent fit, he’s going to be Roger Federer once again.”
Andujar recounted levelling with his wife and telling her: “This is the last chance for me”, resolving to overcome whatever pain and doubts came his way.
“You need to be very strong mentally, but once this is over, I think you enjoy tennis more than you used to,” he said.
“Since I came back, every tournament is very special” – and none more so than the opportunity at Geneva to face Federer.
Remarkably, it is the first time they have ever played each other, despite their lengthy careers. Andujar turned professional in 2003 – the year Federer first won Wimbledon.
“It’s a dream. It’s a reward for a long time spent on the circuit,” he said.
“I’m really excited as it was something I wanted to have: a match against Roger, just to tell my kids and grandkids when I get older that I played him.
“I’m really happy to play Roger in Switzerland as well.”
Completing ‘big three’ set
Andujar has played compatriot Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic during his long career, but somehow escaped Federer and thought the chance had passed him by.
“Rafa, Novak, Roger: these guys became mythical. They grew the sport and now they are above the sport. They are something else.”
Andujar said the chance to play Federer spurred him on during his first-round victory on Monday.
Andujar beat Jordan Thompson 6-0, 6-4 in a match which saw the Australian demolish his racquet in frustration.
The Spaniard could give Federer plenty to worry about in the Geneva last 16 – clay being the Swiss star’s least favourite surface.
Former world number 32 Andujar has four clay-court singles titles to his name, and all nine of his appearances in finals have been on clay.
Federer started his comeback in Doha in March, beating Dan Evans in his first match back before losing to Nikoloz Basilashvili in the next round.