Three-time Madrid Open champion Roger Federer must not attack this week's clay-court tournament like a defending champion normally would, but instead approach it as if it's a competitive warm up to the upcoming French Open.
Coming off a two-month long layoff, Federer must aim to break through the rust this week, rather than go all out in an effort to defeat the world's top players.
That's not to say Fed should tank his matches, but instead show some discretion, realizing that there are bigger and better tournaments ahead.
At age 31 and having won a record 17 Grand Slams over the course of his career, Fed no longer has to prove himself more than four times per year. When you've achieved the amount of success he has, you are judged by how you perform in major tournaments, not whether you can win ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events.
Last year, Fed won the Madrid Open on the infamous blue clay, only to bow out at the semifinal stage a few weeks later at the 2012 French Open.
And why else take such a long layoff, skipping Masters 1000 events in Miami and Monte Carlo in the process?
Will Roger Federer repeat as Madrid Open champion in 2013?
Clearly, Federer is dead set on saving his best tennis for major tournaments.
For Fed, the lack of success in terms of championships won at the French Open over the years is really the only thing holding back his legacy.
He's made five French Open finals since 2006, winning just once at Roland Garros in 2009 when Rafael Nadal was knocked out early. But Fed has made the final at the French Open just once in the past three years.
Winning the French Open in the Nadal era proved to be an improbable task for Fed when he was in his prime. Therefore, winning this year's clay-court major will require the Swiss star to be healthy, fresh and on the very top of his game.
The best way for Federer to ensure he enters Paris meeting all three requirements is to put the focus on the French Open, using the Madrid Open as a competitive training session, an opportunity to fine tune his game and scout some of his future opponents at Roland Garros.
This will allow him to experiment with his own game and also find weaknesses he can exploit in the other top players' games.
This week will be Fed's first appearance on clay this season, and if he can discover what's working and what's not this week in Madrid, he'll be better off trading in his crown in exchange for fresh legs.
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