Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon looks at what’s ahead for the great Swiss champion.
Will we see the last great season of Roger Federer’s career next year?
You might have heard that the great Swiss player decided to officially cancel the rest of his 2021 season after experiencing a setback in his rehabilitation and needing a second arthroscopic procedure, thus deciding to forego what little is still officially left to play of the 2020 one for a chance at a clean slate of health for next season. (Something tells us that we’re not far from the entire season being wiped away, but we digress.)
We’re here to tell you that this might be a…good thing?
While you’ll excuse us for being so bullish for the future prospects of a soon-to-be 39-year-old, the sacrifice of turning the page on what’s increasingly looking like a lost season might actually be a case of the two birds in the 2021 bush being worth more than the one in your hand—because this 2020 season is increasingly looking like a lost cause.
Think about it for a second.
It’s just about ancient history now, but back in the pre-pandemic world Federer announced all the way back in February that he would step away from the sport to nurse an injury to his knee. He would be back for Wimbledon, or so he hoped.
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) June 10, 2020
This came after the great Federer had played only six matches in this young season, going 5-1 as he fell against Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open semifinals, and if you’re looking for any reason as to why this long layoff might be a good thing let’s start there.
Provided that he comes back with a full clean of health—no small feat for someone who will be inching close to 40 years of age—then said competitor will have more or less no points to defend in 2021. (Granted, this will be true of literally everyone on tour, or at least everyone currently waiting on tennis to come back. But Federer’s best has traditionally been as good as more or less everyone else on tour.)
Because the Swiss will have played only six matches in 2020—his smallest number of matches in a season since the very first year he turned pro in 1998—he will be theoretically able to make up ground on the standings literally every time he steps on the courts after the first Grand Slam event of next year.
The hope, if you’re a Federer fan (or even if you’re Federer himself), is that this time off will give the man the time to rest, unwind and to probably finally get over losing the 2019 Wimbledon final to Djokovic (hahahaha) before coming back to a sport that adores him and wants nothing more than to see him triumph once again.
In other words, the hope is that this coming 2021 season could effectively look a whole lot like the one he played four years before in 2017: after taking the final five or so months off in 2016, Federer regrouped and came back as strong as he had in a while on his way to a 54-5 record, over $11 million in prize money and seven titles, including at the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
If the Swiss can’t approximate this 2017 season in 2021, then it will all, the surgeries, the wait, the work to get back, all of it will have been for naught—and it will likely signal a looming end to the career of this great player. Because next year, Federer will be as well rested and, unless things go south in a hurry, as healthy as he can reasonably expect to be at his age.
If this doesn’t help him, then it never will again.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG