Roger Federer fully expects his left knee to hold up when he returns to action at the Monte Carlo Masters on Tuesday, and the 17-time Grand Slam champion feels "mentally and physically" rested after more than two months out.
Seeded third, Federer opens in the second round against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. He leads the Spaniard 3-0 in career head-to-heads.
The Swiss star might be a little rusty, seeing as his last match was a semifinal defeat to top-ranked Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the Australian Open. Shortly afterward he had arthroscopic surgery on Feb. 3 for torn cartilage in his left knee.
Although Federer was scheduled to play at the Miami Masters two weeks ago, he withdrew because of a stomach virus.
That meant he arrived much earlier than usual to practice on the clay courts of Monte Carlo, where he has been runner-up four times: three straight to Rafael Nadal from 2006-08 and to countryman Stan Wawrinka two years ago.
Federer does not have high hopes of an 89th career title, but is using the tournament more as a gauge in the lead up to the French Open in Paris, which begins on May 22.
"I am rested mentally and physically. I feel really good," Federer said. "Every week that goes by I'm going to get better and then hopefully by Paris that's where you really want there not to be a problem — seven (matches), five sets, OK, I'm ready for that."
Depending on how he does here, he will decide whether to play the following clay Masters events in Madrid — starting on May 1 — and Rome the week after.
"I have to wait and see how my knee and my body react," Federer said. "I have to see what I feel I still need to work on. Is it recovery? Is it training? Is it something specific? I don't know yet. I will know more in two weeks. Then I can decide."
Federer, who lost to Frenchman Gael Monfils in the third round here last year, is in the same half of the draw as Djokovic, the defending champion. He won six titles last year, beating Djokovic in two finals at Cincinnati and Dubai.
The 34-year-old's last title came at his home town of Basel on November 1 when he beat Rafael Nadal in the final. Given his advanced age, Federer views his absence as a useful way of storing up energy that will come in handy later in the season.
"I do believe that whatever rest it is — maybe from injury, maybe from just a training block or a vacation — it all ends up somewhere in a canister where you can pull from it," Federer said. "You see it with Tommy Haas for instance. He's been injured for almost three years or more of his career, yet he's still on tour. Because he's still mentally fresh. He loves it."
Federer, who lost to Djokovic in the final at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year, still strongly believes he can clinch an 18th major.
"I've won Paris before and I've played so well there over the years as well. Why not there?" he said. "But I definitely think that Wimbledon and the other Slams probably give me a bit of a better chance than the French."