Roger Federer dropped a bombshell on Tuesday, announcing he would be missing the remainder of the 2016 season to fully recover from knee surgery he underwent in February, after getting injured while drawing a bath for his twin daughters.
He may have aggravated it in a fall during his Wimbledon semi-final defeat to Milos Raonic earlier this month.
No injury would turn the tennis world on its heels like a Roger Federer injury, simply because he has barely had any since he turned pro in 1998. Not ones that would sideline him for several months at a time, anyway.
When Federer missed his first major in 16 years, pulling out of last May’s French Open due to a back problem, it sent shock waves across the tennis universe.
That withdrawal from Paris ended his astonishing record streak of participating in 65 consecutive grand slams. So if missing one slam has that kind of effect on people, imagine what the reaction is like now that he’s pulled the plug on his whole season in July.
Federer’s birthday is in 12 days and when he returns to action next season – he is scheduled to come back in the Hopman Cup in Perth early January – he will be 35-years old, ranked outside the top-10 and looking to dust off six months worth of rust.
It’s understandable some are questioning how competitive he can be at the big tournaments next season and whether it’s time Federer hung up his racquets. But while this latest development is worrying, there are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Swiss’ situation.
Federer said in his statement that he intends to play for a few more years and it makes sense that someone who has revolutionised the sport would want to go out on his own terms. Bowing out after an injury-plagued half-year is no way for a champion to say goodbye and those talking about a potential retirement right now should know better.
It’s worth noting that having played just seven events this season, with two injuries bothering him, Federer has enough points to come back in January and still be ranked inside the top-16. That is how good he still is (semis in Melbourne and Wimbledon this year ring a bell?). He may start becoming more and more selective with his schedule when he returns, and draws will become more of a factor at the majors where he has a lower than usual seeding, but that could precisely be the new type of challenge Federer needs to up his motivation and find a new gear.
When Jimmy Connors missed almost all of the 1990 season – skipping his first US Open in two decades – he returned the following year, and reached the US Open semi-finals at the age of 39.
There are some phenomena in sport where rules don’t apply and predictions are futile.
Yes, this might be the real beginning of the end for Federer but it can also be a five-month break that gives him a fresh start.
Tennis-wise, it is tough to see Federer ever lagging behind the field; it really is all about his physical condition and whether he will be 100 per cent fit when he returns next season. He has five months to figure it out.