The Swiss won't return to the tour until the grass season begins in June. (AP)

As the clay-court season continues in Monte Carlo, one player will be conspicuously absent.

Roger Federer is making a habit of skipping the dirt, including Roland Garros, with a planned return in Halle in June. The rationale: Avoiding the demanding surface helps him maintain his health at 36 and produce some of his best tennis elsewhere. With three Slam wins in the last 16 months, it’s hard to argue with the world No. 2.

Federer has more than earned the right to pick and choose the events he plays. Technically, any player over 30 who has played 600 matches and notched 12 years of service doesn't have to comply with the ATP Masters 1000 commitment. But three ATP Masters 1000s, a Slam and nearly three months off? That’s a lot of the season to skip for no other reason than it’s a slog. Is Federer taking his liberties too far?

If you read into some players’ recent comments, the locker room may be starting to think so.

Recently returned after a two-month injury layoff, Rafael Nadal seems a little befuddled—albeit good-heartedly—at Federer’s decision to skip Roland Garros. According to the King of Clay, Federer told him he’d love to go five sets with him on dirt again.

It's possible that Federer's five-match win streak against Nadal had him believing maybe, just maybe, he could reverse his ill fortune against Nadal on clay, too. As for Nadal, what better way to snap a losing streak against his nemesis than a meeting on the dirt?


Monte Carlo!!!!!! #entrenamiento #practice #gettingready #vamos

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 “Then a few days later he says he will not play, so there’s a little bit of controversy with that,” Nadal said. “I don’t care. He takes his decisions.”

His fellow countryman and Davis Cup teammate Feliciano Lopez was a little more opinionated in his assessment of Federer’s holiday from clay.

"I would love to bring Federer to Madrid again before he retires," Lopez said. "Respecting everything—it is a pity that such an important and charismatic player like Federer is not in a dirt season that is as important for tennis as grass and hard court."

Of course, Lopez has his own reasons for wanting Federer to sign up for clay duty. He’s the new tournament director of the Madrid Open for 2019, the second of three ATP Masters 1000 events leading up to Roland Garros. A Federer in the twilight of his career—especially one who hasn’t been dropped in on the tournament for some time—would be quite the draw.

What Lopez, Nadal and the fans want is clearly far from Federer’s mind—at least far enough to keep his new clay-free routine intact. Anything that extends his glittering career is a benefit to the sport. But here’s hoping Federer gets another date with Nadal on clay before he hangs up his racket for good.

This Week on Tennis Channel Plus:

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