It’s a tough old time for Federer and his fans, isn’t it? After today’s loss my first reaction was that Roger has hit rock bottom, so my post title was going to read ‘Federer hits rock bottom against Brands in Gstaad’. Things had really hit an all time low. So I was relieved to hear he has been having back problems of late. Of course you don’t want him to have an injury, but at least there is now an official explanation for the bad form of late. As you can see Roger had serious back problems already in Hamburg, and had to take anti-inflammatory medication and we also saw him wear the back straps. And as he had already committed to playing Gstaad, he didn’t want to disappoint the locals. I think that is the deal here. He was uncertain whether to play right up until the warm up, and during the match he found it hard to play and move.
That shows how much he cares about the fans. He said after the match that he was just happy to play. That tells you the physical shape he was in and the kind of person he is. Roger has always been very reluctant to talk about his injuries. Remember in 2008 when he had mono he didn’t want to talk about it, even though it was clearly affecting his play. That is very admirable and at the same time it makes it hard for the fans, because they are kept in the dark. They suffer through tough losses thinking Roger is just declining fast, when in fact he is hampered by an injury. But at least we have confirmation now. I never talk about Roger’s injuries much because I hate to speculate and make excuses. As far as I’m concerned if you show up on court then you are ready to play. But in this case I do understand that Roger felt an obligation toward the fans.
At least he didn’t humiliate himself out there or withdrew during the match. At one point I did think this would be a humiliating loss when Brands threatened to break for a second time in the second set, but at least Roger was able to avoid embarrassment. The match was a story of missed break opportunities. Of course the injury had an effect but Roger’s confidence is also shot. Hence the missed break chances. As far as his tennis goes this is rock bottom. This is as low in confidence as I’ve ever saw him. At times he looked like a lost child out there. But at least now we know there is a legitimate reason for it. If Roger says he has back problems you better believe it, because he is the last guy to make excuses. He is very stoic in that sense. As always the complete opposite of Nadal, who talks about his injuries non-stop like a little baby.
With Nadal you never know if he is really injured because he seems to always be injured, while with Roger you know he is injured when there is even a hint of an injury. So in a sense this is a great relief. I think we can assume the back has bothered him all year. Or since the Australian Open anyway. He was already playing there with another shirt underneath his tennis shirt. That was the last time he really played well and with confidence. Maybe the amount of tennis he played in 2012 also had an effect. So the fact that he is playing less tennis in 2013 is not necessarily a bad thing. It is less strenuous on his back. It looks like he will skip Montreal as well now. My guess is he will and come back for Cincy and the US Open. It may be wise to skip the whole hard court season and rehabilitate his back. Then come back for the indoor season and add some extra tournaments.
But I can’t see Roger doing that. The slams are too important to him and he still has Wayne Fereira’s record of 56 consecutive slams played in sight. He is currently on 55, just one short. So I think Roger will play but I can’t see him doing much damage. In his current form making quarter finals would be a great result. Personally I would just hope he doesn’t get upset in the first or second round, but at least his quarter final streak has been broken now so it wouldn’t matter all that much. If Roger skips Montreal he won’t have much time to get ready for the US Open. His training will be compromised by his back and as low as his confidence is I don’t see him getting very far in Cincy. We will just have to see how things pan out. For now Roger has not yet withdrawn from Montreal. Personally I’d like to see him lay a solid foundation for the 2014 season by doing well in the indoor season.
And for that he would have to skip the hard court season. Lets say he plays Cincy and the US Open. That means his back will get less rest before the indoor season. He may even end up making it worse, and he could well lose to more low ranked opponents which won’t do anything for his confidence. In that scenario it would be better to just rehabilitate his back, spend some time on the practice court, and add several more indoor events to his schedule. He could for instance start with a 250 tourney like Metz or Thailand. Then the 500 in Beijing, and then the Masters Series in Shanghai. Then he can take a week off and play Basel, Paris, and the Masters Cup. That is a lot of tennis so probably the best would be to start in Metz so he has a week off before Beijing and Shanghai. He would also still be close to home so he can go back for a week.
Then after Beijing and Shanghai he could come back home again to play Basel, Paris, and London. That would be the perfect schedule in my opinion, because he would slowly build it up and there would be sufficient rest. I mean he hasn’t played much this year and if he skips the North-American hard court season he should be able to play 6 indoor events. And that would set him up well for 2014, because he loves indoors and he will probably win a title or two as well. This will most likely not happen, but it’s food for thought. I mean when is Roger gonna sort out his back? Skipping Montreal only won’t give it much time to recover and he will only be able to play about 3 indoor events, which won’t allow him to achieve much. He won’t be able to lay a good foundation for 2014. He has already said he will play Brisbane.
When will he rest his back? During the short off season when he has to train? I don’t know. I think for the first time it may be well worth it for Roger to miss a slam. I don’t think he will, but I think at the very least he should give it some serious thought. Lets get real. He is not going to win the US Open. The chances are better that he will suffer another demoralizing loss. And what is the use of that? Now, I realize the record for most consecutive slams played is important and Roger is within one of equaling the record. But is it worth compromising his back over, thereby compromising his indoor season as well as his 2014 season? Roger has so many records anyway and this record merely shows longevity and health. It is not so crucial. The indoor season has been important to Roger in recent years.
It has been the one surface on which he can still dominate and which hasn’t been affected as much by the slowing down of surfaces. In 2010 and 2011 his biggest title of the year came at the Masters Cup. In 2011 the indoor season was also the start of Roger 3.0, where he won Basel, Paris, and the Masters Cup consecutively. How I miss those days! Just pure indoor mastery. That laid the basis from where he launched his very successful 2012 season. The back is a big problem lets face it, and in hindsight playing Hamburg and Gstaad was a mistake. But Roger didn’t know his back was gonna flare up and that is over now. He can’t just keep taking short breaks though. His back is clearly a serious problem and it needs time and attention to recover. If he skips Montreal he will at least have a couple more weeks to recover.
But his back won’t get much time to rest in that time. On the other hand this is not a problem that will be cured. It is something chronic, something that should be managed. I had this problem myself as a player. As far as I can gather Roger has a weak lower back, which is what I had as well. For me it was really hurting when I had taken a long break and lost fitness. As soon as my whole body got fit and all my muscles strengthened it was better. Also strengthening my abs and stabilizers helped. The most painful was when I was doing fitness drills where I was bending over a lot, or even worse, stayed bent over while moving around. It was excruciatingly painful and would cause a back spasm. In fact I could do these drills only up to a point until I said enough is enough. I am not sure this is Roger’s exact problem, but he also gets a back spasm.
My problem never went away but I managed it pretty well. It was just really bad when I bent over for an extended period of time. I don’t think it’s so much about rest as it is about getting treatment and strengthening the muscles in that area, and that does take time. Rest is important too, but if you get massages every day and treatment it speeds things up. So I am not sure how much time he needs off anyway. He would surely have worked a lot at strengthening those muscles already, and he still having problems. All I know is that it is pretty bad right now and he needs a break. The other problem is that Roger already took a 7 week break after Indian Wells. If he skips the US Open then he takes another 7 week break. However if he plays Cincy and the US Open he doesn’t get much of a break and compromises his indoor season.
In the end he has to do what is best for his health, and no one knows that better than Roger. There is a lot to consider here. Another thing I didn’t mention is that the clay may have been a bad choice for his back, because the points are long and there is a lot of movement. If he gets back on hard court it may be better. So going back to clay after the grass court season turned out to be a bit of a disaster. In hindsight it would probably have been better if he played Atlanta and Washington. Ok I think I have dragged this post out long enough. I’ll make a poll and let you vote whether Roger should skip the hard court season, treat his back, and make a full go at his favorite indoor season, or play the hard court season and possibly further compromise his back as well as his indoor season and 2014 season.