The French Open will begin on Sunday without Roger Federer, the first time he will miss the tournament since 1998. It’s also the first time the 17-time major champion will miss any Grand Slam since the 1999 U.S. Open. Federer’s withdrawal breaks his record-setting streak of 65 straight Grand Slam appearances, a stretch that encompasses fully one-third of the history of Open-era men’s tennis.
When Federer last missed a Slam, two Americans, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, were ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the world. Federer had just turned 18, was mired in a slump, and was ranked so low that he needed to try to qualify for the tournament. He lost in the second round of qualifying. This time, Federer is ranked No. 3 in the world but has struggled all year with injuries, entering just four events. Federer said in a statement that he withdrew to “ensure I could play the remainder of the season and help to extend the rest of my career. I remain as motivated and excited as ever.”
No. 1 Novak Djokovic has never missed a major since he played his first in 2005. The French Open will be his 46th in a row. His consistency rivals Federer’s and exceeds that of the other three men — Björn Borg, John McEnroe and Rafael Nadal — who achieved the five highest Elo scores of the Open era, our measure of the players who peaked at the highest levels of all time.
Federer also leads among his fellow greats in consecutive appearances at just about every stage of Grand Slams. Djokovic, though, is riding streaks of five consecutive finals, eight semis and 27 quarterfinals. Federer’s withdrawal will make it easier for Djokovic to maintain his streaks — not so much because a weakened Federer isn’t in the draw, but because it bumps Nadal up to fourth in the seedings, preventing the possibility that Djokovic would have to face his top clay-court rival before the semifinals. Injuries have kept Nadal from stringing together long streaks at Slams, while Borg and McEnroe rarely bothered to make the trip to Melbourne for the Australian Open.
CORRECTION (May 19, 3:50 p.m.): The headline on a previous version of this article gave an incorrect time period since Federer’s last missed Grand Slam. It was 17 years, not 18 years.