Roger Federer has never won the Monte Carlo Masters title, but the Swiss star is ready to compete. He hopes to add this clay-court trophy to the largest collection of tennis hardware in the modern era, perhaps on the same shelf as his prized 2009 French Open Musketeers Cup.
Why wait for Madrid, after another calendar page has been torn off? The road to the French Open begins now, and it cannot be traveled with intermittent steps. Last year was a painful reminder. He battled injuries and never had enough work to truly compete for the French Open. He was able to reach the Rome final but was out of gas at the Roland Garros quarterfinals, unable to play his best tennis.
Now Federer is healthy and ready to bring renewed energy and spirit to Monte Carlo.
Time to Compete
There's no sign that Federer is going to fill out his retirement papers anytime soon. He worked too hard, gearing up for a return to the tour with optimum health and desire. He told The Daily Mail that his off-season efforts were supreme:
I don’t want to say this in a cocky way but I believe I worked the hardest from the top eight in the off-season. Many guys went off to play exhibitions, or were in the Davis Cup. I had time, I put my head down and worked and I did it without any setbacks.
Legendary champions are wired different than their competitors. They are unwilling to accept that age or injury will prevent them from getting into the winner's circle the very next time. They have that special desire to win each match and just one more championship.
Never mind those 17 Grand Slam titles of the past that Federer won. He is thinking about one match at a time for his immediate objectives: Can I get Monte Carlo this week? I'm here to win the French Open in 2014.
Federer has made it clear that he wants to compete in big matches. He's not showing up for retirement tours or to accept second-rate results. "This year in the bigger matches I have decided to take it more to my opponents, instead of waiting a bit for mistakes," Federer said in the South China Morning Post."I have played some really good tennis. I still feel my best tennis is ahead of me right now.
"So I'm looking forward to the coming months, and how they're going to play out, and hopefully by April I feel like I'm going to be a 100 percent again."
So it's April, Monte Carlo has started and Federer has declared himself ready to compete. So far so good.
In Search of Momentum
Federer has put in the work. He has competed. He is willing to play big matches. Now he must find that proverbial zone, the momentum needed to win tennis' biggest prizes.
Momentum is not tangible. It's floating around and worthy to be caught by winners only. It can appear like a bright star, but it refuses to be captured, corked in a bottle and labeled as some magic potion to be saved for time of need. It is created only by the most single-minded desire to succeed and win. And winning is the only way it is created.
This is so much the measure of Federer. He is arguably the most competitive player tennis has ever seen. He possesses levels of determination long ago lyricized by Roman poets. His pride to compete now is as apparent as it was when the Fed Express was rolling along one decade ago.
He is the silent assassin next to rival Rafael Nadal and his more flamboyant celebrations. But he is no less deadly. Federer is always working, plotting and playing to defeat the best players in the world, long after his younger and most glorious years. His opponents know that he is coming. His rivals' fanbases know that he is very capable of victory at any time and just one match away from another moment of glory. Still relevant? Still a winner? There's no question about it.
Right now, Monte Carlo is a chance to get on a roll. He can spend more time working with his newer racket, picking up backhand returns earlier and send them deeper. He can create new shots and ideas from the foundation of his footwork and aggressive mentality. Clay is his ultimate challenge, but the right medium to smooth out the impurities and brush his tennis strokes across the 78-foot canvas.
There's very little unconquered territory for Federer, but there is always more ahead. Maybe he will lose early at Monte Carlo, but maybe he can wreck the weekend for Novak Djokovic and Nadal.
It's more than trying to add a few hundred points to his No. 4 ATP Ranking. It's bigger than trying to hold off David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych. It's greater than pushing ahead of Stanislas Wawrinka for the No. 3 ranking and French Open seed.
It's about playing Roger Federer tennis.
The past doesn't matter right now, only the next opportunity. Keep coming. Be the challenger. Call your own shots. Force them to play their "A" game.
Why not ride all the way to another French Open title?
Federer has a way of simplifying the next task. In an interview last November at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, and after several months of adversity, he was still the optimist:
For me, it's pretty simple: This is what I used to do as a little boy. It's almost like I started walking at the same time I started playing tennis in some ways. It's like one of those moments where you're happy out on the court, you're happy improving, happy trying to change things, adjusting now. As long as I have this choice, I'll keep on playing.
So he plays on, Champion against competitors, creating momentum to carry him confidently into the future.