Roger Federer's US Open hopes will be helped by sitting out Cincinnati Masters, even if it gives Rafael Nadal world No 1 ranking for now
A back tweak led to the Swiss player pulling out of the event, and the extra time away from the court may prove a good thing in keeping him fresh for New York.
While it was bad news for the Cincinnati Masters that Roger Federer announced his withdrawal from participating on Monday due to a minor back ailment, it was undoubtedly the right decision for the Swiss player.
He did look limited in his movement, particularly in the second set, in his loss in the final of the Canadian Open to Alexander Zverev on Sunday.
Federer played down his physical problems, most likely to avoid detracting from Zverev's achievement, but the back tweak he suffered was sufficient for him to choose to sit-out the final event on his schedule before the US Open, which starts on August 28.
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Now Federer, 36, has two weeks to recover and get himself physically right for his bid to win a third grand slam title in a calendar year, something he has not done since 2007, which was always going to be his main objective.
By missing Cincinnati he has given up the chance of becoming world No 1 going to New York. If he had won there he would have been guaranteed top spot, but instead it will be Rafael Nadal who leapfrogs Andy Murray, with Federer staying at No 3.
The fact that Federer did not risk his health chasing the top ranking for the first time since October 2012 shows how serious he is in his quest to win the 20th grand slam of his illustrious career.
From July 2012 till January of this year the goal had been claiming an 18th major, something he finally achieved in Australia.
But this has turned to a dream year, one where Federer looks revitalised while rivlas Murray and Novak Djokovic have both slumped. The opportunity to win even more big titles has opened up.
Given how focused Federer had been on the majors this year after missing the last half of 2016 as he recovered from knee surgery, it was a surprise he had actually agreed to play Montreal and Cincinnati back-to-back just ahead of the US Open.
Clearly he was confident in his fitness, but he only played one warm-up event before Australia and chose to miss the entire clay-court season, including the French Open, with it being his weaker surface and thus unlikely to yield any silverware.
It was perhaps understandable, after two months of inaction, that he scheduled two events before Wimbledon, but the fact he lost his first match im Stuttgart meant his schedule was hardly taxing in preparation for winning his eighth title at SW19.
But he would have expected, given his form, to have had a decent run in Cincinnati, and having already played five matches in Montreal, potentially another five would have been a lot of work, with New York just around the corner.
That maybe hinted that Federer did have the No 1 on his mind, but the fact he was not willing to take a risk, indicates that getting as many majors as possible before he does eventually retire is still the main objective.
That top spot is still likely to come Federer's way regardless. If he wins the US Open then it would take Nadal winning in Cincinnati, and at least reaching the semi-finals in New York to prevent him departing Flushing Meadows at the summit.
But, even if he does not get it then, given he has no ranking points to defend for the rest of the year, it is still highly probable that Federer will end 2017 as No 1 to cap a remarkable year of renaissance.
But the fact he has willingly delayed a tilt at achieving it highlights that the bigger picture for Federer is lifting the winners' trophy on September 10 at the US Open for the first time in nine years.
If missing Cincinnati helps ensure he does that then it will have been a worthwhile sacrifice.
Updated: August 15, 2017 01:34 PM