Roger Federer is going in a different direction this year.
Roger Federer is going in a different direction this year.

Retirement talk: Fed explains shock call

Relax, Roger Federer fans. There's no need to panic - yet.

When the Swiss Maestro announced last week he would be back in action during the clay-court season for the first time since 2016, some speculated it was because he wanted one last crack at winning the French Open before retiring.

But the 37-year-old has maintained he has no intention of hanging up the racquet just yet, hosing down rumours his shock decision was made with one eye on the finish line.

Asked if his return to clay was part of a plan that would see him strut his stuff at Roland Garros one final time before quitting tennis, Federer denied retirement was on his mind.

"No, it's not. I thought of it, in isolation, do I want to play the clay or not? The answer was yes," Federer told reporters before his opening round match at the Dubai Tennis Championships.

"This doesn't mean this is my last clay-court season, whatever, or I had to play one more time before I retired. That was not the thinking.

"All I knew is after missing it for two to three years basically, my body was ready, I was ready, my schedule with the family, my schedule with the team was ready to do it again. This is when I opted to say, 'It will be nice'.

"That's not the reason why I'm putting the clay back on. It was purely based on I would just like to play. We can always readjust the schedule accordingly depending how I play the clay. The calendar is always flexible.

"Instead of taking a big chunk off, I'd rather stay in the rhythm and actually enjoy myself on the clay."

Federer has snubbed his least-preferred surface for the past two years to give his body a rest so he's fresh for tournaments on grass and hard-court. He's said before tailoring his schedule like that is the best way to ensure he's in the best shape possible mentally and physically when he takes the court.

But he feels like the time is right to make a comeback to the orange dirt - a decision which comes after hinting in January a French Open appearance was on the cards.

Last week it was revealed the Madrid Open will be on Federer's hit-list but he knows he can't expect to perform any miracles in his return - even though he's a 20-time grand slam champion.

"It's going to be challenging, no doubt about it. I have to take baby steps in the beginning to some extent, but that's okay," Federer said.

"I think after not playing for two years, also missing the French (Open) three years ago because of injury, I think the team understood that I was in the mood to do it again.

"I did grow up on clay, after all. I felt like my body is strong enough now again to do the surface changes from hard to clay to grass to hard again. In the past I felt different. I felt like it would be nice to go from hard to grass to hard, stay on faster surfaces."

Federer is hunting his 100th career title after claiming trophy number 99 in Basel last September. He couldn't reach triple figures at the Australian Open after he lost to Greek sensation Stefanos Tsitsipas but he'll be hoping for better luck in Dubai.

"I think that's got to be the mindset, that you try your best every match, every week anyway. Things fall into place or they don't. It's not because of lack of effort," said Federer.

"We've been talking about 99 titles ever since Basel, every tournament I've played. There's nothing new. Of course, coming to Dubai where I've enjoyed a lot of success sort of makes you believe maybe it could happen here.

"Then again, draw is tough. Haven't played in a few weeks so you reset everything, get ready for your first round, hope everything is going to click again here in Dubai.

"It's going to be tough. Look, I hope we can have this conversation in a few days' time and see what happens."