PARIS (AP) — Roger Federer pulled out of the French Open on Thursday, ending his record of appearing in 65 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments dating back to 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," 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."
Last week, Federer played at 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 last major Federer missed was the 1999 U.S. Open.
"I am sorry for my fans in Paris but I very much look forward to returning to Roland Garros in 2017," said Federer, who was beaten in the quarterfinals last year by eventual champion Stan Wawrinka.
The third-ranked Federer, who has 88 career titles, won the French Open in 2009 — the only time he has won the tournament at Roland Garros.
Returning from more than two months out following arthroscopic surgery on Feb. 3 for torn cartilage in his left knee, Federer looked comfortable as he reached the Monte Carlo Masters quarterfinals — losing to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
But the back pains 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 prepare for Wimbledon, a tournament he has won a record-equaling seven times.
Because of Federer's withdrawal from the tournament in Paris, nine-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal will move up to No. 4 in the seedings, meaning he will avoid a possible quarterfinal match against top-ranked Novak Djokovic.
After Federer, the next longest streak of playing at major tournaments is 56, held by Feliciano Lopez.