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Ailing Roger Federer pulls out of French Open

By Paul Newman

For the first time in the 21st century a Grand Slam tournament will take place without Roger Federer's name in the draw.

The 17-times Grand Slam champion has pulled out of the French Open, which begins on Sunday, as a result of the back problem which has been troubling him in recent weeks.

"I regret to announce that I have made the decision not to play in this year's French Open," Federer wrote on his Facebook page.

"I have been making steady progress with my overall fitness, but I am still not 100% and feel I might be taking an unnecessary risk by playing in this event before I am really ready.

"This decision was not easy to make, but I took it to ensure I could play the remainder of the season and help to extend the rest of my career."

Federer has played in 65 Grand Slam tournaments in succession, which is a record. He made his Grand Slam debut at the French Open in 1999 and the only event he subsequently missed was the 1999 US Open, for which he failed to qualify.

This has been a challenging year for the 34-year-old Swiss, who underwent knee surgery in February and had to delay his return to competition after falling ill at the Miami Masters.

He eventually returned in Monte Carlo, where he reached the quarter-finals, but was then forced to miss the Madrid Masters because of the back problem which is continuing to trouble him. Although the world No 3 played in Rome last week it was clear he was far from fully fit.

The one upside for Federer could be that it will give him more time to prepare for the grass-court season, assuming his back problem clears up soon. When Andy Murray pulled out of the French Open three years ago - also with a back problem - he went on to win Wimbledon.

Federer is well aware that this will be an extremely busy summer. Sandwiched between Wimbledon, which begins in just over five weeks' time, and the US Open, which starts at the end of August, are two Masters Series tournaments and the Olympic Games. Federer has won a gold in doubles at the Olympics but not in singles, having had to settle for silver when Murray won in 2012.

The French Open is also the Grand Slam event where Federer has enjoyed the least success. His only victory came in 2009, when Rafael Nadal lost in the fourth round to Robin Soderling. Federer went on to beat Soderling in the final.

Federer's withdrawal means Stan Wawrinka, the defending champion, will move up to No 3 in the French Open seedings behind Djokovic and Murray.

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