Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the bombshell that Roger Federer dropped on the tennis world.
Is this your king?
This past week, Roger Federer shocked the tennis world when he announced that he would skip the entire clay court season and eye a return for the grass swing and Wimbledon. The reason? An arthroscopic surgery to his right knee.
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) February 20, 2020
Now, not only was this news quite the bombshell but with it Federer was also telling the entire world that he had had the surgery already. There was no point in trying to convince him otherwise, to have him delay things until the offseason or whatever, this was already a done deal. This was a courtesy call from King Roger before he was stepping out of his tennis kingdom and there was nothing anyone could do about it, we would see him again only in the heat of summer.
There was nothing anyone could do about it as in: nothing but speculate on what this might mean for the man and his long-term future in the sport.
Federer is set to lose 3,180 points and will likely be ranked around No. 7 entering Wimbledon.
— Tennis Connected (@TennisConnected) February 20, 2020
If this were any other player, we wouldn’t bat an eyelash and simply keep things moving and rolling until he came back to action. But King Roger is anyone but “any other player:” at now 38 years old and after basically two decades on the ATP Tour, Federer is possibly the most beloved player in history. Being that much, much closer to the end than he is the beginning, this coming surgery will likely be the biggest test of Federer’s career. And father time is undefeated, remember?
The rub, of course, is that even if his recovery is as successful as we can expect and hope for, he’ll be so far behind in rankings once he has come back. As mentioned in the above tweet, the four months that Federer will miss were quite fruitful for the Swiss in 2019: 3,180 total points is nothing to sneeze at.
The most ardent Federer fans will point out that falling to something like No. 7 in the world is no catastrophe and, sure, that’s true but only to some extent: if you want to compete with the Stefanos Tsitsipases or Gael Monfilses of this world, falling to No. 7 is fine. But if you’re in the business of competing against the Novak Djokovics and Rafael Nadals of tennis, then it’s pretty much a catastrophy. It’s possible to come back from it, of course, Djokovic did it only a handful of years ago—but Djokovic was like 30 years old then, not 38 like Federer currently is.
Most worrisome of all is that this surgery could spell the end of Federer as a major force on tour, one who competes for the very biggest events on the calendar. We’ll likely get as good an answer right away as Federer plays Wimbledon: if he can’t compete with Djokovic on the grass, his best surface, and after four months off to rest and heal, then what hope does he have on other surfaces? Remember what Federer said about continuing to play even as he grew older, right? That he would only keep at it until and unless he can remain at or near the top? Well, what does an arthroscopic surgery and long lay-off change?
As for the rest of tennis, the sport will not feel the same without ol’ King Roger. The man is probably the best ambassador the sport could ever have hoped for, mixing excellence and grace on the courts with an exemplary behaviour off of them that has been characterized by a superhuman capacity to sidestep every single possible controversial opinion.
In his absence, Djokovic and Nadal are likely to carry men’s tennis the very same way they have done recently. Nadal will likely grab Grand Slam title No. 19 at Roland-Garros, unless, like, Dominic Thiem has something to say about it, while Djokovic is probably the odds-on favourite for every single event he competes at in 2020.
But of course, maybe that all of this, this article, the entire controversy, the tweets, everything, is all for naught and the 38-year-old man recovers perfectly from the arthroscopic surgery to his knee to come back to the top and we all pretend like it never happened.
Or, you know, maybe not.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG