After a two-month break, Roger Federer is finally back and will start the defence of his Madrid Open title this week against Radek Stepanek.
The Swiss, bothered by back pain in recent times, has been away from the tour since losing in straight sets to Rafael Nadal at Indian Wells in mid-March and the tennis world has been waiting eagerly for his return. Federer's fans have had few occasions to celebrate as the 17-time grand slam winner has yet to reach a final in 2013. He has a 13-4 record for the year and his last title came at Cincinnati in August. The former world No 1 believes this break can help him turn the tide.
"For me, it was important to take a bit of a rest, not too [long], just enough so I'm really sort of tough to beat in the next few months," Federer said.
"I need to get away from it all, so that when I do come back, I'm excited and motivated. That's what I feel right now."
His fans will be hoping that is true, but the schedule could leave Federer short of live-fire tournament experience heading into the French Open. He will play only once more, in Rome, before reaching Paris for the second grand slam of the year. On the other hand, Nadal has already appeared in five clay-court events since his return from injury and has made the finals in all of them, winning three.
Novak Djokovic has beat Nadal on clay in Monte Carlo.
Federer has some catching up to do on slow, low clay courts and Madrid could be the litmus test.
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