Roger Federer's Tokyo Olympics withdrawal raises more doubts about what lies ahead with US Open coming up
Roger Federer will not play at the Tokyo Olympics after suffering a setback with his knee. The move raises more questions about what comes next for the 39-year-old, who was beaten in straight sets in the quarter-finals of Wimbledon. Federer has not yet confirmed when he plans to play again after withdrawing from the Olympics.
Roger Federer’s hopes of ever winning an Olympic singles gold medal look to be over after he announced that he will not be competing at the Tokyo Games. The 39-year-old, who won singles silver in London 2012 and doubles gold with Stan Wawrinka in 2008, has pulled out of the Olympics due to a “setback” with his knee. He says that he hopes to return to the tour “later this summer”, but the move raises more questions about his future, coming just a week after his straight-sets loss to Hubert Hurkacz in the Wimbledon quarter-finals.
Federer seemed to allay any retirement concerns after the defeat by saying his “goal is to play” and he just needed some time to “regroup” as he plans his next move. “With everything that comes after Wimbledon, we were always going to sit down and talk about it.”
Even before the knee problem it would have been keeping with his planning in the first half of the season to not play the Olympics. His tournament appearances so far this year have largely been staggered, returning to action after 13 months out in March and then not playing again until May, and then pulling out of the French Open after the third round to conserve himself for the grass season. If he did enter the Olympics it would have meant a quick post-Wimbledon turnaround and then another quick turnaround for the US swing ahead of the final Grand Slam of the year in New York.
But, six months into his comeback, the challenge remains for Federer to see if he can take the next step and still win tournaments. This latest setback is not going to help on that front.
Despite losing in somewhat surprising fashion at Wimbledon, Federer said that he was satisfied with his progress – and it’s not hard to see why. This was only his fifth tournament in the last 18 months and he managed to beat three top-50 players on his way to the quarter-finals. That he was beaten by the 14th seed, who had previously knocked out the second seed, was arguably not really a surprise, although the way the match slipped away from him in the third set certainly was.
That was, though, the highest-ranked player that Federer has played since his return, and Andy Murray has often spoken about his need to play against top players more often to really gauge where his game is. Federer must feel the same, even though physically he says he is in good shape. “I'm not sure if it's necessarily matches, to be honest, because the body actually overall feels fine from the matches,” he said after Wimbledon.
Federer’s former coach Heinz Gunthardt thinks a win against a top player could be a game-changer for the 20-time Grand Slam champion.
“He lacks confidence and that affects his footwork,” Gunthardt told Tagesanzeigher. “There is no way around big victories. He hasn’t beaten anyone yet, which gave him the certainty: I can compete with the best again. He still lacks this confirmation. He needs wins against the likes of [Daniil[ Medvedev and [Alexander] Zverev.”
Perhaps the US swing will be perfectly suited to Federer’s needs – if he is fit to return. The ATP 500 in Washington – where Rafael Nadal is set to feature – is followed by two Masters 1000 events before the US Open gets started on August 30. There will be plenty of opportunity for Federer to compete against the top players in the world, and to compete in three-set matches over a week-long tournament, rather than the longer challenges presented by Grand Slams. It feels like it could be a pivotal period for Federer, who acknowledged after his Wimbledon exit that he needs to improve.
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“Clearly there's still a lot of things missing in my game that maybe 10, 15, 20 years ago were very simple and very normal for me to do. Nowadays they don't happen naturally anymore.
“I have got to always put in the extra effort mentally to remind myself, remember to do this or do that. I have a lot of ideas on the court, but sometimes I can't do what I want to do. I think it's a bit of a tricky situation sometimes, come tough matches against great players. I definitely need to be a better player if I want to be more competitive at the highest of levels. I knew that coming in. Better players remind you of that.”
The next few weeks have the potential to shape the rest of the season for Federer. If he faces a lengthy spell out and more rehab then perhaps he will consider his long-term future. If he returns in August and gets a few wins then his spirits may be lifted and he will continue to improve. His showing at Wimbledon suggested that he is still able to compete with most of the best players and over three-set matches he may have even more of an advantage. However, there still seems a lot of work to be done before Federer can win tournaments again, and will he settle for any less than that?