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Bailing on the French Open is Roger Federer's best option

Originally, Roger Federer planned to skip the pre-French Open clay season.

Based on the past two days in Rome, maybe he should pass on Paris altogether. He should focus on Wimbledon -- his best remaining chance to collect an 18th Grand Slam singles title -- where for him the grass is actually greener.

Thursday's 7-6 (2), 6-4 loss to Dominic Thiem was predictable, and it confirmed the general feeling that Federer isn't quite right. After his Wednesday straight-sets victory over Alexander Zverev, Federer had said as much, adding that a second match in Rome was "a big ask."

Perhaps it was the 34-year-old's way of downplaying expectations. Or maybe he was just telling the truth, even if it was a tad dramatic.

With a surgically repaired knee (meniscus) and a chronically bothersome back, why would he risk his long-term health by playing in Rome if he wasn't quite physically ready?

"I felt the only logical step for me to go to the next level was to play a match," Federer explained after his opening match Wednesday. "I could have just skipped it and just kept practicing, but then also still being cautious in practice. At least if something happened today during the match, I still felt I had enough time to recover again for Paris.

"It was a calculated risk, if you like. I hope there is a lot to be done in the next 12 days because I have a base, I have a level, which is really important to have. I'm not coming from no-man's-land."

But after Thursday's result, that's exactly where Federer -- who has played five matches in four months -- finds himself.

He has played in four tournaments this year -- and withdrawn from five. One more isn't going to be a deal-breaker.

After losing to Thiem, Federer said he would meet later Thursday with his team to discuss options: staying in Rome, going to Paris or heading back to Switzerland.

Not playing in Paris, apparently, is not among them.

Federer said he practiced on clay in Miami in March and then for 10 days in Monte Carlo.

"I actually thought I could really do a good result in Paris," he said. "Now, the last couple of weeks, it's been more difficult. Clearly, the way I'm playing right now is never going to be enough for any good run in Paris."

Roland Garros has always been a struggle for Federer; his record of 65-16 (.783) is by a good measure his worst among Slams. His lone win came in 2009, when Rafael Nadal was upset in the fourth round by Robin Soderling. Four of Rafa's nine titles have come against Federer in the final. The past three years, Federer has departed before the semifinals.

There are 46 days to Wimbledon, where Federer has hoisted the trophy seven times.

We humbly recommend he return home to Switzerland and play with his kids for a few weeks, letting that knee and back heal properly. Leave the yard work to the experts. Come back on June 13 to play on the comforting grass in Halle, Germany, where he has won eight times. Spend the following week practicing at the All England Club and -- bam! -- Federer's in the mix at Wimbledon.

Despite his advanced age, he has made three of the past four finals there.

The elephant in the room is his streak of 65 consecutive Grand Slam appearances, the all-time record. It's a standard to be proud of and, certainly, Federer would like to keep it going.

Pete Sampras, who like Federer won Wimbledon seven times, did not enjoy the cloying red clay of Roland Garros. From 1998 to 2002, Sampras lost five of the eight matches he played there. Of course, he rallied to win Wimbledon three times in those years and reached three US Open finals, winning the last in spectacular fashion at the age of 31.

Skipping the clay grind might have left him a little fresher at the end of his career.

Federer said he expected to lose his first match in Rome in straight sets. If he feels that way in 10 days, would he start the French Open?

"No," Federer insisted. "This was different. This was an information tournament for me, never a result tournament.

"If you look at the results and how I played, yeah, things are not great. But those things can change very quickly, as we know. If I can play 100 percent again and move again correctly, my mind's in a good place."

The body, at this stage of his waning career, hasn't been as cooperative.