No one can imagine Roger Federer’s retirement. Roger Federer will miss the rest of the 2020 season — however that ends up looking — and debate is raging as to what it means for the living legend and his tennis legacy.
Just how much tennis the 38-year-old will actually miss remains up in the air amid the coronavirus shutdown and the uncertainty over the French and US Open with Wimbledon, Federer’s pet slam, already scrapped for the year.
While it’s devastating news for Federer’s many adoring fans, Peter Bodo — writing for ESPN
— said the tennis world should “hold the sympathy cards and floral arrangements” for now.
“We were at this same juncture in 2016, for similar knee injury reasons, only to witness a remarkable Federer resurgence in 2017,” Bodo wrote.
“That year, Federer won two majors on a 52-5 record and capped his comeback by capturing the No. 1 ranking early in 2018 after having spent five years in exile thanks to Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal”
Bodo acknowledged “this might prove to be a final point-of-no-return” for Federer but described his decision as “about as risk-free as possible”, suggesting this may be part of a long-term strategy.
“Unlike last time, the tennis world will not continue to spin in his absence, rivals, and newcomers cashing in during his time away from the court. But this decision triggers a number of red caution flags, even in comparison with Federer’s risky decision in 2016. The most obvious: age.
“It’s also possible that Federer and his team have concocted a long-term game plan designed to provide more daylight between Federer with his 20 majors and hard-charging Nadal (19) and Djokovic (17). After all, in 2016 he whiled away the time reconstructing and improving his one-handed backhand, a refresh that played an outsized role in his regeneration.
“This might prove to be a final point-of-no-return for Federer, should his efforts in 2021 fall short. It could also result in a final, glorious chapter that Federer would not have had a chance to write were it not for the shutdown of the game due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“One thing we do know is that Federer, who anticipated a hunger for team events and started the wildly successful Laver Cup to satisfy it, knows an opportunity when he sees it.”
In pondering whether Federer had another sporting miracle within him, Kevin Mitchell — writing for The Guardian
— drew a comparison with another all-time sporting great.
“The Swiss are entering territory once occupied by Muhammad Ali, whose career was sliding towards an undignified conclusion when, at 32, he shocked George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire in 1974,” Mitchell wrote.
“Just as Ali encouraged dreaming among his followers, so Federer, in a markedly different discipline, draws on the unshakeable faith of his fans.”
However, Mitchell argued, this time, fans were likely to be disappointed.
“He (Federer) had his Lazarus moment in 2017, just as
Andre Agassi did when he came back from his personal hell in 1999 to win his first French title and a second US Open. Many other champions have flickered again after struggles that threatened to finish them: Serena Williams in the past couple of seasons (for the second time in her career), Djokovic in 2017, Kim Clijsters between 2009 and 2011, Monica Seles in the early 1990s, Andy Murray, interminably.
“It is Federer’s misfortune to be growing old when two of the greatest players of all time, Nadal and Djokovic, seem to have survived their own injury trials and are looking hungry to surpass him in the record books.”
Stuart Fraser, writing for The Times,
suggested Federer likely knows Wimbledon represents his best, and perhaps only, the chance of adding to his slam haul. But in missing multiple slams he risks falling behind his greatest rivals.
“Federer’s decision could have a significant impact on the history stakes. By missing two grand-slam tournaments — if they go ahead — it opens the door for Rafael Nadal, 34, to become the new men’s singles record holder, with the Spaniard presently on 19 major titles.
“Novak Djokovic, on 17, also now has an opportunity to close the gap, but the Serbian, 33, does not seem at all keen to travel to the US Open because of safety measures that he describes as “quite extreme” and not “sustainable”.
George Bellshaw, writing for Metro UK
, said it was entirely possible “this is the end” for Federer from a grand slam perspective — though it would be foolish to write him off.
“His miraculous return in 2017 was somewhat aided by the struggles of Djokovic – an eight-time winner in Melbourne – who was about to suffer the most dormant period of his career since reaching the top of the sport,” Bellshaw said.
“That said, Federer was still just a point away from beating the Serb at Wimbledon last year in the longest final in the tournament’s history – perhaps there is still life in the old dog yet. At this stage in his career, there are no guarantees a return is even possible.
“While Federer has defied time for so many years, this could prove to be the end. Although, few athletes seem to have Federer’s intuition of when to rest his body.
“With Wimbledon already canceled, Federer may have felt he had little to play for this year. With the uncertainty still surrounding the tour, he may not miss much anyway. From his perspective, it seems a straightforward decision.
“Will it prove to give him one last shot at the big time?”