Roger Federer to close down 2020 season after second knee surgery

“I look forward to seeing everyone back on tour at the start of the 2021 season”

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis
Roger Federer
Roger Federer (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

There has been precious little news from Roger Federer’s Swiss retreat in recent weeks, though that has not been entirely unexpected given the tennis lockdown since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The world No4 was already in his own ‘lockdown’ when the tennis calendar shut down at the start of March after undergoing surgery to his right knee. Since then, he has broken cover just a handful of times—for an Instagram chat with Rafael Nadal, to record a message of support for a New York nurse, and only yesterday to send a congratulatory message to graduates of the Rafa Nadal Academy.

He did, though, hint in his Nadal conversation that there had been a setback to his rehab, and that message was reinforced by his coach and friend, Severin Luthi, in an interview for Sky Sports in Germany this week.

Asked whether Federer was back on the practice court yet, Luthi said he was still at the rehab stage but did not want to go into details. He added:

“There can always be setbacks, and that is the case now with Roger.”

Perhaps that forced Federer’s hand, for this morning, tennis woke to a Tweet from the man himself, confirming that there had indeed been a significant setback: a second surgery to his right knee.

“Dear fans, I hope you are staying safe and healthy.

“A few weeks ago, having experienced a setback during my initial rehabilitation, I had to have an additional quick arthroscopic procedure on my right knee.

“Now, much like I did leading up to the 2017 season, I plan to take the necessary time to be 100 percent ready to play at my highest level. I will be missing my fans and the tour dearly, but I will look forward to seeing everyone back on tour at the start of the 2021 season.”

Roger Federer

Roger Federer (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

He references the similar situation in 2016, which began much like 2020 with a semi-final loss at the Australian Open to Novak Djokovic, followed immediately by arthroscopic left knee surgery. This time, the surgery was to his right knee, and now a second ‘quick procedure’ to the same joint.

In 2016, he attempted his comeback on the clay of Monte Carlo and Rome, but aggravated a chronic back problem and was forced to miss the French Open.

He re-emerged on grass, but suffered semi-final exits at all three events, and was clearly shaken up by a fall at the end of his last match at Wimbledon. He admitted in the aftermath:

“It was a different fall for me than I’ve ever had… I hope it’s not so bad. With the body that’s been playing up this year, I just hope I’m going to be fine. I believe I am, but I’ll know more tomorrow when I wake up.”

In the event, he soon afterwards announced that he would withdraw from the rest of the season “as I need more extensive rehabilitation.”

It proved to be a decision that bore rich fruit: He returned, ranked No17, to win more titles in a single season—seven—than in any year since 2007. And not just any titles: He won the Australian Open, Wimbledon, Indian Wells, Miami, Shanghai, plus two ATP500 tournaments.

For a player who turned 36 that same year, it was a remarkable achievement, but now in this 2020 replay, it poses the biggest question: Can Federer realistically reclaim his familiar form in his 40th year?

In a long, laughter-filled conversation with former No1 Gustavo Kuerten last month—after that second surgery, though he made no reference to it—Federer certainly sounded upbeat about life, the universe and everything.

“I am happy with my body now and I still believe that the return of the tour is a long way off. And I think it’s important mentally to enjoy this break, having played so much tennis. When I’m getting towards returning and have a goal to train for, I think I will be super motivated.”

Add into the decision-making that Federer has four young children, and the desire to travel too far afield for any significant period of time must also be factored into the equation. He was already no more than a ‘pencilled in’ name for a US Open that, if it runs at all, will be under stringent conditions.

Meanwhile, apart from some small region-based ‘friendly’ tournaments, the tennis calendar remains frozen through to August at the earliest. The French Open is still scheduled to take place at the end of September—though by then, it will be at the mercy of the autumn Paris weather—and the US Open is expected to report on plans for its end-of-August start imminently.

For now, though, Federer’s words to the hopeful graduates at Nadal’s academy in Mallorca will resonate with the Swiss player’s fans—the self-proclaimed ‘glass half full’ player writ large.

“Never forget to have fun. I think that’s the most important [thing] and that’s what has separated maybe Rafa and myself, that we never lost our passion for what we are doing every single day.

“There are going to be rainy days, it’s going to be tough [some] days, but there is always a silver lining. There is always going to be the sun that’s going to come back around.”

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