Roger Federer is not going to be playing in Rio. The Olympics which start eight days from now is already enveloped in a myriad of controversies. From health threats to political issues, unfinished infrastructure to getting ready to receive athletes from the world over, Brazil’s capital is under a lot of pressure. Of course there have pull outs already but when the big names decide not to play, it’s a setback.
The 34-year-old Swiss announced on his Facebook page on Thursday that he was cutting his season short. To rehabilitate a knee injury suffered in January and a subsequent surgery, he would not be representing Switzerland in the Olympics nor would he play at the US Open. “The doctors advised that if I want to play on the ATP World Tour injury free for another few years, as I intend to do, I must give both my knee and body the proper time to fully recover,” the father of four stated. “It is tough to miss the rest of the year. However, the silver lining is that this experience has made me realize how lucky I have been throughout my career with very few injuries.”
Unlike major rival Spain’s Rafa Nadal, whose career has been plagued by injuries, the 17-time Grand Slam champion has been lucky to avoid major long-term injuries. A freak accident in January where he tore the meniscus in his left knee while running a bath for his daughters came a day after he lost in the Australian Open semifinals. He returned to the Tour in April but didn’t play in the French Open. A loss to Canada’s Milos Raonic in the Wimbledon semifinals where he fell on court, had critics wondering the state of the knee. And then came this announcement.
The question is was Rio Federer’s last chance at Olympic singles glory? The maestro has stated time and again about the importance of the Games. The twice flag-bearer at the Games’ opening ceremony, he met his wife Mirka in the 2000 edition at Sydney and narrowly missed the bronze, losing to France’s Arnaud Di Pasquale in three sets. A shock loss in the second round four years later in Athens stunned the tennis fraternity. As world No 1, he lost to then-ranked 74th Czech Tomas Berdych, again in three sets. It was only in Beijing in 2008 that Federer tasted Olympic glory. Partnering Stan Wawrinka, they clinched the doubles gold while he was again shocked in the quarters by American James Blake. It seemed he would finally win the elusive singles gold in London 2012 but was outplayed by local hero Andy Murray at Wimbledon in the final.
The ‘Big Four’ – Federer, Nadal, Murray and Novak Djokovic all take the Olympics very seriously. While Murray and Nadal have gold medals in singles (2012 and 2008, respectively) Djokovic has a bronze from the 2008 edition. With the form Serbian Djokovic is in, the world No 1 will surely be the one to beat for the singles gold.
Has Federer missed the bus? He clearly wants to play for some years more and thus the decision to cut his season short. Not only will his ranking drop considerably having played just seven tournaments this year, the 21-7 win/loss record is definitely not the world No 3’s best. But when the Tokyo Games come around four years later, Federer will be pushing 39 provided he is still playing. This is the first time since 2000 he’s failed to win a tournament and the last Major he won was back in 2012. The way he started the year, making the Brisbane final and semis of the Australian Open had fans firmly believing this season would fetch him his 18th Grand Slam. All it took was ‘one stupid move’ to destroy it.
Sympathy for Roger
Players have all sympathized with Federer’s decision. “I love Roger, so obviously — I just finished my match. I have no idea. I’m very sorry for him, that’s for sure,” said Frenchman Gael Monfils. Wawrinka, his partner in the men’s doubles, is disappointed. “It’s a tough announcement for me and sad for him and for everybody,” he said while the much-awaited mixed combination with Martina Hingis has taken a step back.
But with Federer one can never predict. He always bounces back. Despite many shocking losses throughout his career (the second-round one to Sergiy Stakhovsky at Wimbledon 2013 is clearly imprinted), the Swiss maestro has come back strong when opponents least expect it. Last year’s final showings in two Grand Slams was one of his best seasons considering the risks he was taking and the level at which he was playing. Thus, one can never rule him out. Will we finally see him lift the singles gold at Tokyo? Who knows but if it does happen, it will be an achievement which will stand for a long time.
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