NEW YORK — Roger Federer sent something of a shock wave through the tennis world with what he thought was an obvious joke after improving to 18-0 in first-round matches at the U.S. Open.
"I'm happy I never stumbled at the first hurdle," Federer said during his on-court interview Tuesday night. "Almost time to retire — but not yet."
Some folks' reaction might best be summed up as: Wait. WHAT?!
So the 37-year-old Federer was asked at his news conference to clarify his comment after the 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 victory over 117th-ranked Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Why did Federer mention retirement?
Turned out it was completely harmless.
"That was meaning, like, 'I never lost a first-round match here at the Open. I won all my 18. You don't want that (loss) to happen next year.' I said, 'Maybe I could retire now, because I protect my 18 first-round wins here.' That's what I meant with it," he said. "It's a total joke, yes."
And, then, addressing all of the members of the media in the room, just to make absolutely sure everyone understood what he'd been thinking, Federer added with a smile: "So please don't read into it. Don't even write that word."
For years, actually, Federer has dealt with questions about when he might retire. In part, that's because elite tennis players often used to become not-so-elite by the time they passed the age of 30.
If anything, he's looked as good as ever over the past two seasons, adding three Grand Slam titles in that span to raise his men's record to 20.
Against Nishioka, Federer delivered 14 aces and never was in any trouble.
Federer saved the first eight break points he faced before finally faltering by pushing a forehand long on the ninth, losing serve for the only time while trying to close out the match at 5-2 in the third set. By then, the match was 1 hour, 45 minutes old — and it would last another seven minutes.
"Thankfully I wasn't too nervous tonight. I felt good. I felt like I had a good preparation week. No hiccups there. I think that settles my nerves there. When you do walk out onto Arthur Ashe, you feel like people are there to see the show, enjoy themselves. Sure, they come for the tennis, but it's also sort of a bucket list, wanting to be there," Federer said.
"So, yeah, there's pressure. But, no, never gets old," he added. "I love coming to play here. It's been so many years now."
The No. 2-seeded Federer is seeking his sixth title at the U.S. Open, but first in a decade.
He could face No. 30 Nick Kyrgios in the third round and 13-time major champion Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals.