Federer renaissance can serve as an inspiration to injured Murray and Djokovic
While the top two seeds at Wimbledon are both out, and facing time away to recover from injuries, this does not have to be a long-term bad thing for the pair.
While Wednesday was a day of shocks at Wimbledon, with Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic exiting the men’s competition, the manner of their departures was somewhat anticlimactic.
It is the first time since 2003 that neither of the top two seeds are part of Friday’s semi-finals, but the tennis world is preparing itself for the fact they may have to do without Murray and Djokovic for longer than just the closing stages in London.
A hip problem, which Murray had been dealing with in the build-up to his title defence, reared its head against Sam Querrey, and from being two sets down the Briton’s movement across the court became almost painful to watch as Querrey ran through the final two sets for the loss of only two games to reach his first grand slam semi-final.
A despondent Murray was open-minded on what his plans were following the loss, understandably reluctant to give a time frame on what was next for him in term of playing.
“If it means taking a few weeks’ rest, then so be it,” he said. “If it means training and doing the right rehab and stuff, then I’ll do that,” he said in his post-match news conference.
Shortly after Murray’s loss, Djokovic retired from his quarter-final, trailing Tomas Berdych 7-6, 2-0, an injury to his right elbow limiting the power of his serve.
READ MORE: Novak Djokovic some way short of his best
The Serbian, who has not missed a major since appearing in his first one at the Australian Open in 2005, a run of 51 tournaments, made it clear that a spell away from the game to fully rehabilitate was in his mind.
“The specialists that I’ve talked with, they haven’t been really too clear, mentioning also surgery, mentioning different options. Nobody was very clear in what needs to be done,” the world No 4 said. “Yeah, I guess the break is something that I will have to consider right now.”
They may well be injury-forced time-outs, but time away from the court may well not be a bad thing for either.
Both men had gruelling 2016 schedules, Djokovic toiling to complete his career grand slam at the French Open, while Murray won five tournaments in a row between October and November, coming after he had won Wimbledon and Olympic gold in the summer.
That run got him to No 1 in the world, but his season ended on November 20, and he was back playing competitive tennis only six weeks later.
Both men have been pale shadows of the ones that dominated men’s tennis in 2016, and given neither was playing particularly well even before their bodies began to break down, it would be easy to worry about their long-term standing in the sport.
But, if they need inspiration they only need to look at Roger Federer, the favourite now to win Wimbledon for an eighth time.
Twelve months ago Federer fell short in the semi-finals to Milos Raonic, and that was his last action of 2016 as he downed tools for the rest of the year to fully recover from knee surgery, acknowledging at the time he had not been physically right.
Federer came back in January revitalised, won his first grand slam in four-and-a-half years at the Australian Open in January, and has won a further three tournaments. He is yet to drop a set at Wimbledon ahead of Friday’s semi-final with Berdych.
Despite being the most successful player in the history of the men’s game, there had been little in Federer’s play between 2013-16 that screamed he was capable of winning multiple grand slams in the same year again.
He had last done that in 2009, yet here he is just two matches away from picking up his second major of the year.
Rafael Nadal is also a case in point that taking a break does not have to be the end.
He finished an injury-hit 2016 season in October to fully rehabilitate from a wrist injury. Since then he has won a 10th French Open title last month, reached the Australian Open final, won three other titles, and reached two more finals. So no need to panic that time spent away from the game cannot have future benefits for Murray and Djokovic.
It may be a setback in the short term if both men were forced to miss the US Open, but if it means they can follow in the footsteps of Federer and Nadal and win grand slams further down the line then it will be worth it.
Yes, both men may lose ranking points and places in the standings in the meantime, but if you are playing well enough it does not matter where you are ranked.
Federer won the Australian Open seeded 17th, beating four top 10 players on his way to his 18th major.
Murray and Djokovic both face an anxious next couple of weeks, finding out just how bad their injuries are. But the rewards are there if they allow nature to take its course and rest up.
Federer and Nadal will testify to that.
Updated: July 13, 2017 01:37 PM