Roger Federer out of Madrid with injury: ‘Been a tough year – hope it gets better’

Roger Federer has been forced to pull out of the Madrid Masters due to a back injury

Madrid had been on tenterhooks for weeks, crossing fingers that former champion and world No3 Roger Federer would slot the Mutua Madrid Open into his schedule.

Just two days before Saturday’s draw, he did just that, and his face was immediately bannered across the tournament’s website.

But bad news followed: and after a long practice session on Saturday, he cancelled subsequent practices, did not join fellow top seeds in routine pre-tournament press conferences, and Twitter began to buzz with rumours. Sure enough, Federer has now announced to media at the Caja Magica that he is withdrawing with a back injury.

“Sorry to the tournament for coming and leaving without playing. I was okay, and then I practised on Saturday and hurt my back a little bit in practice… At this point I don’t want to take more chances as I know I’m not going to be fully ready for Wednesday. I would rather play it safe and rest up now and get ready for Rome.

“I’m very disappointed, to say the least…. It’s been a tough year, so I hope it gets better from here.”

The withdrawal may not have been a surprise but the reason was, for the 34-year-old Swiss star had already missed a big chunk of the spring schedule due to a knee injury picked up after his semi-final exit at the Australian Open. He was forced, indeed, to have surgery for the first time in his career, and to withdraw from his scheduled appearances in Rotterdam, Dubai and Indian Wells.

The unforeseen surgery thus forced changes to his original calendar and he added the Miami Masters—only to be hit by gastric flu before he played a match.

So having originally left his entire clay schedule clear of commitments before the French Open, he now quickly added Monte-Carlo, where he played his first matches since the end of January, losing in the quarter-finals but happy with his recovery.

The addition of Madrid, then, was not entirely surprising, and in practice, the outlook is more promising with a back injury than a knee injury. For the one recurring physical weakness that Federer has dealt with through his career has been his back.

Few who saw the ashen-faced Swiss lose to Andy Murray in Shanghai at the 2008 Masters Cup will forget it, and the same problem reared its head during Indian Wells in 2013, and dogged him through much of that summer.

With a new racket, new coach Stefan Edberg, and back to fitness, Federer recovered from a ranking of No8 at the start of 2014 to claim five titles from 11 finals, but ended the season in more trouble with a shock withdrawal from the final of the World Tour Finals after damaging his back in a dramatic semi-final.

He managed, just, to take part in the Davis Cup final, losing a painful rubber to Gael Monfils but coming back to beat Richard Gasquet.

So this has been a chronic condition he has learned to manage, which explains his pragmatic—indeed upbeat—line to the media in Madrid.

“Before the Davis Cup finals it was the most extreme I probably ever had. This is normal back things I’ve had in the past, which I guess is good because I know how to handle it. I know how long it can take. Sometimes it can vary by a few days here or there.

“That’s why I’m pulling out today and not waiting until tomorrow… So it’s the back stuff I kind of know, and, yeah, I’m okay with it. At least I know what it is.

“If you look at the pullouts this year, many I couldn’t do anything about. If it’s clear that you can’t play and you know it’s the best for your career and for the future of the season, doesn’t feel like such a big letdown.”

Naturally Roland Garros looms large, and Federer was optimistic about his ambitions there during Monte-Carlo. Now, he remains positive about both taking part and about his clay preparation: “Depends now how Rome goes, but regardless, I practised a lot before Monaco.

“I was 10 days in Monaco before the tournament and played three matches there. From that standpoint I’ve been playing a lot on clay. Now also the last two weeks I was back on the clay even though it was cold in Switzerland. Maybe that didn’t help my back, I’m not sure, but I practised there for many days as well.

“From that standpoint I’m ready and okay. I don’t always [need] a lot of matches to feel 100 per cent ready… With my experience and the way I feel about big tournaments, if I have matches, great. If I don’t, I trust in my game, in my mind that I’ll be fine regardless of the preparation, to be honest.”

And despite admitting to some frustration, the “glass half full” Federer remained on full show: “If I start the tournament and have to pull out before the finals in London or make it to the semis or quarters and then have to pull out, those, to me, hurt much more than pulling out before the tournament even started. I mean, I am frustrated. I’m a little sad of course not to be playing here. At the same time, I’m still upbeat that the back issue is going to go away.

“I would rather have it being the back than the knee. So from that standpoint I see it as more positive than negative, to be honest. I wish I could play here, but I just can’t. I’ve got to deal with it… When you have a reason, people understand.”

The plan now, give or take his back recovery, is to use Rome for some Roland Garros prep: “Clearly I always need goals. The goal now is to play Rome and hopefully arrive there somewhat early so I have a good preparation, and, hopefully a good tournament. Still, let’s see how my back is. If I can’t play Rome it’s not the end of the world.

“The goal has always been that I’m a 100 per cent when the French comes around. If not, then latest Wimbledon. That’s always been the case ever since I stepped into the operation room.”

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