Federer says retirement 'can totally wait'
ROGER Federer doesn't have an answer. Nobody does.
The Swiss maestro is fascinated by the storylines of his colleagues in tennis's Big Four and is expecting fireworks when their paths converge at the Australian Open, beginning on January 16 at Melbourne Park.
Federer says Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and himself have intriguing form guides heading into 2017.
Once again, the Big Four will dominate attention and interest at the year's first Grand Slam. Aussie Nick Kyrgios and fellow young guns Dominic Thiem, Milos Raonic and Alexander Zverev are not going to get gifted any time in the spotlight.
The storylines of the quartet have never been as muddled up as they are heading into 2017. It's what makes tennis's gang of four - with a combined 46 grand slam titles to their names - such an interesting unknown.
This year was when the Big Four's stranglehold on the sport was smashed into pieces.
Federer has not played since Wimbledon, taking a six-month break after needing knee surgery in July. He sits at No.16 on the ATP World Tour rankings.
Nadal was forced to pull out of the French Open with a painful left wrist injury, which he carried through the year and eventually succumbed to in October, prematurely ending his season at the Shanghai Masters. His best grand slam result was reaching the fourth round of the US Open.
Djokovic was invincible in the first half of the ATP circuit and then burned out at the end of the season to surrender the year-end No.1 ranking to Murray.
Murray heads into 2017 as the best player in the world - something he has never done before.
For Federer, 2017 is dripping with intrigue, he told The New York Times.
"I think it actually creates a great story for next year,” Federer said of the Murray-Djokovic rankings showdown at the ATP World Tour Finals event in London.
"Andy's a great story. Novak's a great story. Rafa, obviously, is always going to be a good story. Me coming back is hopefully going to be a nice story to follow, too. I think the beginning of the year, especially the Australian summer, is going to be epic.
"Maybe it's only human and understandable that Novak had a let-down, because he achieved everything he wanted to.
"You have to maybe reinvent yourself or whatever you have to do. But it's nice to see that maybe it doesn't always come so easy for everybody for so long.
"Novak, let's be honest, actually didn't play too bad in the second half. He won Toronto. He played finals in many other tournaments: US Open, the World Tour Finals. You would think that that's going to be enough, but what it required was something extraordinary, and Murray was able to deliver that, and that's where I take my hat off.”
Federer, having missed six months of action at the age of 35, is the most fascinating prospect of all.
Is he still capable of challenging for grand slam titles or will 2017 prove to be a sad story of a stubborn legend that refused to walk away when he should have?
It's a question Federer has asked himself, but not once has retirement crossed his mind.
Even nursing that knee, which gave way on him during his loss to Milos Raonic in the semi-finals of Wimbledon on July 8, did Federer contemplate his career was over?
He told the New York Times his six months on the sidelines gave him a preview of retirement life - and he's not prepared to enter that phase any time soon.
"I did get that taste of retirement,” Federer said.
"All of the sudden, I could be organised and say: 'OK, we're going to be four weeks at home in a row in the same place. Who do you want to go for dinner with, Mirka? Or who shall we catch up with?'
"I think that was really exciting and good for us to have that time. And it felt good, you know? It did feel good, but it can totally wait. No problem for me. It can totally wait.”