By Jerome Pugmire
AP Sports Writer
PARIS — Roger Federer pulled out of the French Open on Thursday, ending his record streak of appearing in 65 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments — every one since the start of 2000.
The 17-time major champion, who had a knee operation this year but returned to play at the Monte Carlo Masters in early April, has been dealing with a back problem that has limited his schedule in recent weeks.
“I regret to announce that I have made the decision not to play in this year’s French Open,” the 34-year-old Federer said in a statement on his website. “I have been making steady progress with my overall fitness, but I am still not 100 percent and feel I might be taking an unnecessary risk by playing in this event before I am really ready.”
He has been in Paris this week, practicing on the red clay and testing his back. Last week, Federer played in the Italian Open and lost to Dominic Thiem in the third round. He withdrew from the Madrid Open the previous week because of back pain.
The previous major tournament Federer missed was the 1999 U.S. Open, when he failed to qualify for the main draw.
“I am sorry for my fans in Paris, but I very much look forward to returning to Roland Garros in 2017,” said Federer, who lost in the French Open quarterfinals last year to eventual champion Stan Wawrinka.
The third-ranked Federer, who has 88 career titles, won his only French Open title in 2009, completing a career Grand Slam.
Returning from more than two months out of action after arthroscopic surgery in February for torn cartilage in his left knee, Federer looked comfortable as he reached the quarterfinals in Monte Carlo before losing to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
But the back proved more of a concern.
“This decision was not easy to make, but I took it to ensure I could play the remainder of the season and help to extend the rest of my career,” Federer said.
“I remain as motivated and excited as ever, and my plan is to achieve the highest level of fitness before returning to the ATP World Tour for the upcoming grass court season.”
Skipping the French Open will give Federer more time to rest, recuperate and prepare for Wimbledon, the grass-court major tournament he has won a record-equaling seven times, and the Summer Olympics.
Because of Federer’s withdrawal, nine-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal will move up from No. 5 to No. 4 in the seedings, meaning he will avoid a possible quarterfinal rematch against top-ranked Novak Djokovic. The draw is Friday; play begins Sunday.
With Federer’s Grand Slam appearance streak now over, the longest active run is 56, belonging to Feliciano Lopez.