The head of the Italian Tennis Federation has brushed off Roger Federer's absence from the upcoming Italian Open, insisting the tournament is "stronger than any champion."
Federer has enjoyed a thrilling start to the 2017 season, securing titles at Indian Wells and the Miami Open after his exhilarating Australian Open success at the start of the year. The 18-time grand slam champion now plans to lighten his work load ahead of the French Open at the end of the month.
"I'll be resting most of the time. The body needs a rest, I can feel it," Federer said following an exhibition match with Andy Murray at the start of the week. "Everything is good. I should be back for the French Open. That is the plan."
The Swiss will sit out of the Madrid Open and the Italian Open, which begin on the 7and 14 of May respectively.
Angelo Binaghi, president of the Federazione Italiana Tennis [FIT] has suggested the 35-year-old's absence is no big loss, pointing out that one of the sport's all-time greats has never won in the Italian capital.
"Look, you are talking to someone who has always been a big fan of Rafa Nadal," Binaghi was quoted as saying by Ubitennis. "After all, Federer has never even won here and he does not have good memories considering he should have at least won twice.
"An event like the Rome tournament is stronger than the great players and champion absences. In fact this year we will beat all box office records and sold tickets."
Federer is keen to ensure his comeback at the summit of world tennis isn't short-lived. Having already dismissed retirement, the 35-year-old says keeping fit is his priority for 2017, but former world no. 1 Andre Agassi believes the Swiss is capable of going on for "another four or five years."
"Every tennis player has a different career and each one has his reason to retire. In my case my body had told me to stop and I didn't have other choice. Also, I never had Roger's game," Agassi said when asked if he could have prolonged his career after seeing how Federer is doing it, as quoted by tennisworldusa.org.
"For me it was easy, but it seems that he can keep going for another four or five years. The only thing I can say is that when the end comes, it comes in a fast way and you do not expect it. Something happens and everything changes."