Roger Federer has admitted he could yet return to the Dubai Tennis Championships at the end of the month despite choosing to play in this week's Rotterdam Open.
The 36-year-old played in the 2017 event – reaching the second round – and has been deliberating whether to travel to the United Arab Emirates.
Playing in Dubai initially appeared inconceivable as Federer – who has regularly spoken about having to adapt his schedule in his tender years – accepted an invitation to compete in Rotterdam.
He can become the oldest number one in tennis history if he reaches the semi-finals and is two wins away from that feat after overcoming Ruben Bemelmans in round one on Wednesday (14 February).
But Federer could yet return to the ATP 500 circuit again before the American hard-court swing next month after revealing an appearance in Dubai may still be possible.
"I guess by being here (in Rotterdam) now, and maybe being in Dubai, it's just going to have to be lighter if I play the clay-court season," he told The Guardian when asked about the possibility of playing the French Open, which he skipped last year along with the entire clay season.
"Or not at all. So I just have to get into this situation a little bit, because the priority is for me to try to defend my sunshine double in Indian Wells and Miami. So, then we'll see what happens with the clay, what happens next."
The news will be received well by tournament organisers in Dubai, who had been expecting to welcome Federer back to the event, which he has won seven times.
Ticket sales for the tournament rely heavily on the high profile players – sessions at the Rotterdam Open have sold out since Federer declared his intention to play – but the confirmed player list is lacking a marquee name.
Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic's respective injury problems, coupled with Rafael Nadal's preference to play the Mexican Open the same week, means the line-up is headlined by world number four Grigor Dimitrov – one of only two players from the current top 20.
Tournament director Salah Tahlak remains hopeful Federer will opt to play – he has only 45 points to defend from 2017 – and sympathises with fans who are speculating over whether he will feature.
"Fans will be fans. Sometimes we have to understand that these top players are also human. Just like any of us they can be tired, they can be sick or injured. That said, I am an eternal optimist. I am positive [Federer] will come," Tahlak told Gulf News.
"It is important for us to have him, and it is equally important for him as well so that he can target the number one spot in the world one more time," Tahlak noted.
"It is a critical decision to make for him personally as I am sure [Federer] can see the possibility of being at the top of the world once again. The picture is clear for him. In Dubai he doesn't have to defend any points either. He can make it to the semi-finals or more in Rotterdam and that will be a huge achievement.
"Federer and Dubai is a two-way street. He has always been important to us. Maybe our men's line-up, this doesn't look too great on paper, and there are many reasons for this. [Andy] Murray had confirmed he would be here to defend his title, but he can't as he's recuperating from surgery. Novak [Djokovic] too was 50% confirmed, but he too is out. And then Dubai is in direct competition with Acapulco and Nadal has chosen to go there as always. So we really can't help it.
"Federer is the Rolls-Royce of tennis. He is like the Patek Philippe of watches. He picks and chooses his tournaments and we can only hope that Dubai will be among his choices this year. If he does come then the entire tournament benefits. We get more of everything. The return on investment is huge for us as single-handedly he brings so much along with him."