Roger Federer’s back injury threatens record run of 65 consecutive grand slam appearances
There have been alarming headlines about Roger Federer and his injury woes this past week, with some gloomy ones suggesting the reappearance of his back problems, which forced him to pull out of Madrid last week, could hasten the end of his career.
Now, the end is certainly a lot closer than tennis enthusiasts would like. Federer will be celebrating his 35th birthday this August and there are not many more years realistically he can spend on tour at the highest level, traversing the globe.
But if the injuries keep plaguing him, like they have this year, he could be forced to make a decision sooner rather than later.
The world No 2, a father of four, did try to sound upbeat in Madrid last week. “I’m a little sad, of course, not to be playing here,” he said. “At the same time, I’m still upbeat that the back issue is going to go away.
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“I would rather have it being the back than the knee. So from that standpoint I see it as more positive than negative, to be honest.”
The setback will be a concern to Federer fans though. They will remember how a lingering back problem hurt his 2013 season, when his proud record of quarter-final or better at 36 consecutive grand slams came to an end following a second-round exit at Wimbledon.
Federer finished the year with a 45-17 record, with Halle being his only title of the season. The results saw him slide down the rankings as well and he finished the year at No 6.
That was Federer’s worst year on the ATP Tour since 2002. But there seems to be a sense of foreboding and that might perhaps be the reason why more than 5,000 fans packed the courts in Rome on Sunday just to watch the 17-time grand slam winner practise with his coach Ivan Ljubicic.
The fans had waited patiently for Tomas Berdych to finish his practise session before Federer arrived to a rousing ovation. They were all on their feet, feeling lucky as well, for few spectators have had the opportunity to cheer Federer on to the courts this season.
The Swiss has played a mere 13 matches and three tournaments in 2016, and a combination of injuries and illness has forced him to miss five events.
It all started in Melbourne when, a day after his semi-final loss to Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open, he hurt his knee, tearing a meniscus which forced him to have surgery for the first time in his career.
A stomach virus then blighted his return in Miami and he was forced to withdraw before his opening match against Juan Martin del Potro. He did look good on his way to the last eight in Monte Carlo, but then injured his back while practising in Madrid.
“It’s been a tough year,” Federer said in Madrid. “I hope it gets better from here.”
But what if it does not? What if his back is still not 100 per cent when he arrives in Paris for the French Open, which starts on May 23.
Federer has not missed a grand slam since the 1999 US Open, and he missed that only because he did not qualify for the main draw.
He has appeared in a record 65 consecutive majors since. Behind him in joint-second are South African Wayne Ferreira and Feliciano Lopez of Spain with 56 each, which means a difference of more than two years.
Novak Djokovic, the world No 1, is five years behind on 45, while Stan Wawrinka has appeared in 44 consecutive majors until now. Andy Murray’s best streak has been 22, while Rafael Nadal’s is 19.
That record of consecutive major appearances is, then, an ode to Federer’s largely injury-free career. This year, however, is different. So what will he choose if his back is not 100 per cent before Roland Garros?
It would be tempting to take a chance and try to keep that record of consecutive appearances going. But it could be a big risk as well, especially with Wimbledon and the Olympics to follow.
So Federer could have a few tough choices to make this summer, and he could consult golfer Tiger Woods’s chronicle of a worsening back injury as a guide on the wisdom of trying to play through the pain.
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Updated: May 9, 2016 04:00 AM