Tennis has been fending off the doomsday moment when their most popular player calls time on his career for many years, but we are about to discover whether the ageing frame of the sporting icon that is Roger Federer can come through its biggest test year and, more crucially, whether his desire to fight back to the top remains as strong as it has always been.
As Federer announced he will not be back on court until the grass-court season in June at the earliest, his decision to opt for surgery to address a right-knee problem ending his hopes of making what may have been a farewell appearance at the French Open in June will cast fresh doubt over his future at the top of the game.
After confirming in a statement that his knee has been giving him problems for ‘a little while’, the 20-time Grand Slam champion has vowed to return for what may be his most realistic shot at winning another major title on his beloved Centre Court at Wimbledon when he will be just a month shy of his 39th birthday.
“My right knee has been bothering me for a little while,” read Federer’s statement. “I hoped it would go away but after an examination and discussion with my team, I decided to have arthroscopic surgery in Switzerland yesterday. After the procedure, the doctors confirmed that it was the right thing to have done and are very confident of a full recovery.
“As a result, I will, unfortunately, have to miss Dubai, Indian Wells, Bogota, Miami and the French Open. I am grateful for everyone’s support. I can’t wait to be back playing again soon, see you on the grass.”
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) February 20, 2020
Federer’s army of fans around the world will inevitably be concerned that this could be the beginning of the end for the most popular player of all-time, yet the upbeat tone of his statement suggests the Swiss maestro is still eyeing up more glory in a year that many suspect could be his last on the tour.
However, we have been here before.
Federer’s retirement obituaries were penned after he underwent surgery on his other knee back in 2016, yet he has added three Grand Slam titles and four ATP 1000 titles to his collection since then and that should serve as a lesson to those who will write him off now.
His battling performances as he reached the Australian Open semi-finals last month confirmed that Federer still has the heart to push his body to the limits in pursuit of a final taste of Grand Slam glory, yet the landscape could look very different by the time he makes his return, possibly on the grass of Halle in mid-June and the sands of time have also moved this story forward since his last surgery three years ago.
Federer’s ATP ranking is likely to slip to around No 8 by the time he is due to return to action and while Wimbledon authorities could look to boost his seeding for The Championships based on his prowess on grass, placing him among the top four seeds would appear to be unlikely.
That could open up the prospect of a quarter-final meeting with his great rivals Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon, but that date appears some way in the distance for Federer right now.
The decision to opt for surgery on the knee is an attempt to give himself a final shot at Wimbledon glory, but coming back after a five-month break and winning Wimbledon for a ninth time would be the most remarkable victory of his already iconic career.
While few athletes recover from knee surgery this late in their career and return to the top, father of four Federer has defied the odds before and will dare to believe he can do it one last time.
This is no ordinary sporting great, but his powers of recovery are about to be tested like never before.
Follow Kevin Palmer on Twitter @RealKevinPalmer
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