We all felt there was something amiss, didn’t we? Defending champ Roger Federer announced that he was withdrawing from the Doha tournament today, addressing the press before his scheduled semifinal match vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
“I hurt my back in my second-round match against Zemlja and just got a little bit better for the match against Seppi,” said Federer.
“I don’t feel a whole lot of improvement for today, and I just don’t think it’s the right time to risk anything more right now. I still have pain, and that’s why it was the only right decision, a difficult one for me.” (via the ATP)
Roger said he suffered back spasms during his second round match, the pain continuing despite treatment. Which may explain that painful three sets scuffle with Andreas Seppi in the quarterfinals – Roger mentioned to reporters that he was forced to play with the “hand brake” on to manage the injury, which particularly effects his serve.
The big question now is can Roger be ready for the Australian Open, which starts in ten days. He says he’s “optimistic” *gulp!*:
“For Australia, I’m optimistic, just because it’s not very good but it isn’t crazy bad,” Federer said (via the Washington Post.) “I have had bad backs in the past. This is definitely not very good; otherwise I would be playing. But I feel without play and the right treatment, I will get through it in the next few days.”
Roger explained the situation to the fans on court before the match:
Though I don’t want to panic, it’s been fairly clear since the Abu Dhabi exhibition that Roger hasn’t quite been on his A Game. Perhaps he was trying to send a message earlier this week when he explained how key it is for him to “push through the pain barrier” (via Australian Open website):
“I never worry at moments like now that I won’t hold up for the entire season, because I do, I think, plan decently and well, so I manage all the expectations for myself,” he said.
“It’s also part of a good player, being able to put that aside and still play good tennis. I promise you I had a lot of pain throughout my career, and I’ve managed to play with it.”
Well, he has another chance to prove his capacity for pain. Though injuries are always tough to write about given the players’ noble habit of discretion, we know that Roger’s suffered back pain throughout his career, including two ears ago at Wimbledon. He’s dropped out of tournaments ahead of time – Dubai in 2010 comes to mind – with similar problems. So let’s hope this is a temporary barrier and not a brick wall. I sense that given Roger’s history of playing through pain and finishing matches without retiring, in this case he’s simply being very cautious at the start of what is an extremely important season for him.
While this injury is in no way good news, the one silver lining for fans is that it gives us the opportunity to ponder this remarkable Federer factoid: This is only the second time in 996 matches that Roger has withdrawn during a tournament. He’s never retired from a match.
Oh, and at least it’s Jo-Wilfried who gets the break. He will be playing Gael Monfils in the finals, after the sliding Frenchman trounced Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-4 in the semis. I’ll stop myself from more injury speculation on this one.
I’m giving final word on this injury to tennis writer James La Rosa, commenting on the injury plague that’s hit the top players in this run-up to Australia: “Federer, Serena, Clijsters, Sharapova, all injured. Damn those Mayans work fast.”
Yep: Federer (back), Serena and Sharapova (ankle), Clijsters (hip). Can we really be at this stage already this season?