Federer’s Back Problem

Federer’s Back Problem

I’m back guys. I missed a post this week when Roger played against De Bakker so I owe you one. But since I have some time and the subject of this post is an important one, I probably would have made this post regardless. Roger’s back. That’s right. Roger’s back is something that has bothered him for a long time now. In fact it may have always bothered him. I read somewhere that it has been a problem for him since he was a kid. That makes sense because it definitely is not an injury. It’s not an injury that he picked up somewhere that can be treated and healed. It is similar to Nadal’s knee issue. It’s a chronic problem. I used to have lower back problems when I was playing tennis too. It wasn’t something that I could ever get rid of. It was just something I had to live with and manage as well as I could.

I think this is the case for Roger too. I am not speaking from an expert point of view and I don’t have all the facts about Roger’s back, just for the record. But this is what seems to be the case judging from what I have seen from Roger over the years and from my own experience with back problems too. I don’t think this is something he will ever get rid of completely. He will just have to manage it as well as he can. Give it adequate rest and treatment and try to make the muscles stronger where there is a weakness. The back muscles is very important for a tennis player. There is a lot of twisting and turning and stretching going on. It is also important on the serve where Roger’s problem seems to be. This goes back to my last post where I just could not explain Roger’s performance against Benneteau until one of my readers left a comment.

The comment said that Annacone mentioned Roger had been struggling with his back throughout the week in Rotterdam. Also I read somewhere that Roger had not practiced for Rotterdam until last Sunday. On top of that he was playing with two shirts in Melbourne in his last two matches as far as I can remember. So I think it’s pretty safe to say he was having problems with his back against Benneteau. So yes my post was off base to a certain extent. But if you have been following my blog for a long time you will know that I am similar to Roger in many ways. First of all I am very honest, and like Roger I don’t ever look for excuses. Roger never mentioned anything about his back in his presser. I have a lot of respect for that. He was rather looking at where he went wrong and crediting his opponent, rather than blaming his back. This is the attitude of a true champion.

But there is no doubt in my mind now that his injury caused him to lose. When you are injured you can’t give 100%, and that would perfectly explain why Roger looked like he was lacking his usual passion. That injury is always in the back of your mind because you don’t want to make it worse. That would also explain Roger’s body language. He looked kind of nonchalant, like he was almost in exho mode. Come to think of it, my last post wasn’t really of base. Like Roger, my approach has always been to criticize myself first and then look for excuses. It may seem like I am being too harsh on myself or on Roger, but that is just the way I do things. Now that I know about the back problem it is obvious to me the fault is not with Roger, I am going to say it. I have total faith in Roger 3.0 and I know he is not going to put in a performance like this if there wasn’t a serious problem.

Roger with some fans in Rotterdam. Funny look on his face.

On the one side I am happy to have found an explanation for his loss against Benneteau, but on the other hand his back worries me somewhat. If he didn’t practice until Sunday it means he had two weeks rest after Melbourne where he could have gotten treatment for his back. Yet it still bothered him all week according to Annacone. I thought Roger made a great start to the season in Melbourne and he was primed to win Rotterdam. So his back is certainly not helping his momentum at the start of the season. Rotterdam is one of the few indoor events and those are the ones Roger really needs to cash in on. Also, the excuses about his family and not caring about smaller events really need to stop. I think Roger has proven that his family is not an obstacle in his tennis career. If anything it makes him better.

Also he clearly cares about the smaller events. Why else would he have won 5 of them last year? They are important to help him keep his ranking and to give him an unbeatable aura, so that when he goes into the slams it makes things easier for him. I said in my last post that he may have to play Miami, but now that I heard about his back that will probably not be a good idea. With his back problems a limited schedule is even more important. Next up for him is Dubai in about a week where he is defending another title, and then a week later he is also defending his title in Indian Wells. I hear Murray won’t be in Dubai so I hope Roger can make at least the final there so that we can have a Djokerer final. I really hope his back will be better for Dubai, but I guess there are no guarantees. I suppose as Roger gets older his back is becoming more of an issue too.

But it doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. We will just have to wait and see. Maybe it will bother him more from now on. Maybe it won’t. We can just hope for the best. As for the Rotterdam final Del Potro beat Benneteau 7-6(2), 6-3. I wasn’t interested in watching. I was more interested in the Sao Paolo final where Nadal was facing Nalbandian. I thought Nalbandian had a good chance winning this after an impressive win over Almagro in the quarters. But he got hammered 6-2, 6-3 by Nadal in the final. It was disappointing and I guess Nadal is not doing badly on his comeback, although he has been looking vulnerable. He lost against Zeballos in the Vina del Mar final and have been dropping sets all over the place. He was also doing his usual ‘I’m not the favorite’ thing before the Sao Paolo final and then goes on to destroy his opponent.

Also he complained about the surface speed before the final, saying Sao Paolo is faster than the US Open. So his downplaying his own chances combined with excuses seemed to work to the tee for him as he scooped up another clay title and $2 mil in appearance fees. I guess it’s really tough being Nadal with all the injury problems he has had and the ATP conspiring against him by making all the courts slower these days. Well it hasn’t exactly been the weekend of tennis I’ve been hoping for but at least we know Roger had a good reason for losing now. Lets hope his back is ready for Dubai!

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14 Comments

    1. The back should be better in Dubai since it’s very hot there. It seems to act up more in colder weather (it was cool at the AO I think).

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      Ru-an Reply:

      Yes it was. Good point.

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    1. Hey Guys. I am a bit more skeptical than you. It may be that Roger is really coming of that 3.0 status. One of the main characteristics of Roger 3.0 was that he was winning those close matches, following up with easy wins afterwards and getting his hands on those titles.

      I read that he is going to South Africa for a few days to support his organization. To me, it shows that he is not 100% commited and that his mind is occupied with something else. He’s no longer interested in going back to Number 1 and to him it doesn’t matter if he is ranked 2,3 or 4 in the world.

      I hope I am wrong but I started seeing this towards the end of last year when he lost to Murray in Shanghai, then lost to Del Potro both in Basel and in London.

      Now he lost to Benneteau. Who knows what might happen in Dubai.

      In any case, he is just cruising right now and there is no urgency and passion in his play. In AO 2013 it was different and after the loss to Murray I predicted that this would happen. He really wanted to win that title and now thar he didn’t there is a low point which I expected.

      It may last until Madrid.

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      Kyle Reply:

      The motivation is still there I’m sure. He lost to Haas last year in Halle in similar fashion and we all know what happened after that. If he did indeed have trouble with his back, then it will get better for Dubai and he’ll give it his all to win there, and at IW. Those are the only tournaments he’ll play until Madrid which is over a month away after IW so he’ll have plenty of time to practice.

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      Fedfan Reply:

      Hey Vily,
      as a Federer fan, first thing is do not doubt the master! until the day he leaves the game, I’ve learnt my lesson too many times, be a bit more optimistic, Roger knows what he is doing, he’s got the best judgement of any athlete so don’t be too worried!

      Well I certainly do NOT believe Roger 3.0 has abandoned him and us. Roger 3.0 was playing the first four rounds of the AO against some tough opponents, pretty impressive for the start of the season. It’s all about WHEN AND WHERE Roger 3.0 shows up. 3.0 has to make an appearance at latter stages of tournaments and slams in particular consecutively. Will it be tough? Yep but is it possible? Of course. Roger is pretty good in playing his best in the bigger moments so I’m sure Roger 3.0 is still there waiting to come out when the time is right (I personally believe this Roger will be making a full appearance it at the US Open but we shall see). Dw dude, he can’t always be that Roger and 2.0 is even pretty good, he just can’t win everything so need to take that perspective.

      South Africa is a good thing for a number of reasons:
      1) Helps his image as an ambassador which is really important as just being a tennis player, he hasn’t had time to go out for his foundation so I think this will be great. Roger is South African remember so maybe he has family over there and has a tonne of fans to meet, what’s not to love.
      2) Wants to take his mind off the loss and his BACK issues. This will help him regroup, refocus for Dubai and give him the extra motivation needed if so.
      Roger is very committed but he is also committed to the philanthropic side as well, gotta balance the two out in a way. Roger will be back in time to get ready for Dubai, we don’t know what the whole story is with his back so he may need to rest up…

      Vily we cannot expect Roger to win everything he enters anymore. Roger was mentally drained at the end of last season and was very very close against Djokovic in London, that match was on his racquet for sure. The Australian Open was a positive tournament for him despite the loss to Murray. Yes you could see how badly he wanted to win in Australia but that just proves that he is more motivated than ever at the tournaments that mean the most to him now! At 31 to play back to back five setters and show the fight left, we are being too greedy of Roger.

      “It may last until Madrid”
      Not at all. Roger’s grit in Australia proved how hungry he still is. Just because he lost early in Rotterdam we cannot base his whole season on this one loss, it’s just not right by any means. If he plays his best (injury barring) and gives it everything he has in Dubai and Indian Wells there’s no reason to feel disappointed. I think Roger will be ok for Dubai and if gets the rest he needs for his back and the weather and a good draw is going his way well then could be just what he needs!

      Hope this helped to give you a new perspective
      Fedfan.

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      Vily Reply:

      Hey Guys,

      Thank you for the replies and your comments. When I said that it may last until Madrid, I was referring to the low point.

      I believe that after IW and a month of rest and proper practice, Roger will come back stronger and be ready for Roland Garros and Wimbledon.

      What I am trying to say is that last year, which was special, and even before that, post US Open 2011, Roger was on fire. He was closing matches and was winning matches that perhaps he should have lost.

      I don’t want to jump the gun and I will be proven wrong if Roger manages to win Dubai, but last year I was confident and rooting for him.

      This year is slightly different.

      I think that Roger felt the same. He wanted the culmination of his efforts to be that Australian Open Title. But a combination of factors – tough draw, slight lack of confidence, combined with the brutal wear and tear of the consecutive 5 setters in AO left him with empty handed. Yes, he played amazingly and should be proud of his achievements, but looking forward, he only managed to defend his SF appearance.

      He already felt like that if he won the AO he can crash afterwards until Madrid. Now that he didn’t win, he just doesn’t feel like going the extra mile just to defend his titles in Rotterdam, Dubai and IW.

      I thought that if he somehow pushed himself to lift that Rotterdam title, the hunger might come back and he might defend the DUBAI title also but now I feel that is less likely.

      To me, that shows that Roger is just not at that 3.0 level.

      He’ll still play amazingly in the slams, but in those lesser events he might not give the extra effort.

      I really hope I’ll be wrong but I just have this feeling. It will change when April and May come around.

      Until then we have to hope that he manages to make those finals and SF appearances in Dubai and SF so that he doesn’t lose it all very quickly.

      Maybe, just maybe if he does get there he might have something extra.

      The next couple of weeks will tell us a lot about the state of Roger’s game. I feel that he is sitting way to comfortable for my liking and that he’ll slip to Number 3 very soon unless he changes something.

      Nadal is on the come back and Roger has to watch out.

      But nonetheless, when the Slams come around, I expect Roger to be at his best.

      I feel however, that his best will probably come around in the summer and maybe at the US Open. We’ll see.

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    1. ruan and fellow fed-fans,
      i’m from california, and indian wells at night can be quite chilly. like ruan, i too suffer from lower back pain (but unlike him, i’m a mere 4.5 recreational player), and do manage to still play quite a lot by resting, stretching etc–i imagine roger is getting the best care possible and that he will play well the next time around. the challenge now in my view is for him to keep up great form over the course of two long weeks of a major. that’s where i see the difference. my dream is that he beat nadal again at a major to quell all the rumors of him not being able to win his nemesis. and if it’s on clay that would be even sweeter. given that nadal is slipping in the rankings rapidly, my sense is that this year’s french open may see a completely different set of players in the final.

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    1. i meant “win against his nemesis” above. and to clarify, nadal’s lower rankings means that he may run into federer, murray and/or djokovic well before the semi-finals, which will only make things interesting. if it’s the two young turks, we can predict a tedious slugfest that will last five hours and leave the winner too depleted for the next match!!

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    1. Pingback: Rotterdam Recap: Federer Crashes to Benneteau – peRFect Tennis

    1. Federer is plenty motivated. His game is lacking at the moment, and if his game is lacking, motivation alone won’t do the job.

      Who can say what really happened in Rotterdam? Fast indoor courts make it easy for a very aggressive player to blow away the opponent. In a best-of-three format, five bad minutes can decide a match. And Benneteau is a player with a great all-court game, lots of variety and a great serve. If he had better mental strength, he’d be top twenty at least.

      For these reasons, and because Federer only played six matches going into Rotterdam (as opposed to nine last year), I don’t think we can draw any definitive conclusions. There are just too many unknowns involved. It could just be a freak loss, which did happen to him a couple times even in 2004-05.

      Perhaps if Federer had drawn Benneteau instead of Davydenko last year in Rotterdam, he wouldn’t have made it back from a set and a break down, and he wouldn’t have had the confidence to go on that winning run that allowed him to reclaim #1 last year.

      Conversely, if Federer had snuck past Benneteau this year, maybe his back would have gotten better by the semis and he’d have left Rotterdam with the trophy–assuming his back is the issue, and not something else. Who knows?

      He’s got the right attitude, just taking some time off to deal with his other commitments before he goes to prepare for Dubai. He trains in Dubai so he doesn’t really have to acclimate himself too much.

      I’ve said before I’m hoping for Federer to make a great clay-court run and then take that momentum onto the grass. All the talk is about how he can only win on the fast courts in his “old age”, so I want him to win on slow courts to prove that he is still the master of all surfaces.

      He may defend one of his spring hard-court titles, or he may not. He may even lose Madrid and win Rome. Any combination is possible.

      As for Nadal, if you want me to believe the Beast is dead, show me the body. He just crushed Nalbandian for his first title since coming back, so he looks pretty spry to me. Being counted out is just what he and Uncle Toni want, so he can slip into Roland Garros as the underdog (as if a 7-time champ could EVER go into a tournament as the underdog). Far as I’m concerned he will be back to full strength by RG.

      So I remain quite optimistic. It would be hard to replicate his winning run of last spring, but he need not do so to have a successful year. As long as he can get to the semis of most tournaments, he should be in good shape for when his game comes together. And I have no doubt that it will by late spring.

      [Reply]

      Ru-an Reply:

      Steve I choose to believe that this was purely a back issue. The person who first left a comment about this issue on my blog said Annacone said Roger was struggling with his back all week. I could not confirm that but if it is true then the answer is obvious. But there is other proof like the fact that he didn’t train until last Sunday, the fact that he was wearing two shirts at the AO, the fact that Rotterdam had cold weather, and even just the fact that he has had back problems before. Having seen Roger at the AO I can’t accept that he lost to Benneteau without a physical problem. He is still too motivated and he badly wanted to win Rotterdam. I am surprised when I read comments on my blog that says otherwise. Disappointed in fact. You and me know how motivated and professional Roger 3.0 is. I refuse to believe any of the excuses that he was not motivated or that Roger 3.0 left us etc. Utter nonsense.

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      Bharata Reply:

      I also tried to find some report of what Amacone said about an injury but failed. At any rate I watched the match . Federer (as pointed out before here) was grunting on his 2nd serves, which he rarely does. Since the 2nd serves have a lot of twisting to get that extra bit of top/side spin, it suggests he was in pain. He also grabbed his back a few times, even after winning a point.

      I am worried this could be a serious back problem, but hopefully he can manage it. I am looking forward to him defending in Dubai or at least pushing Djokovic.

      As for Nadal the above poster is 100% right. Uncle Toni and the rest will be claiming he’s the underdog now for the rest of the year. It will be tough to stomach listening to that act of pressure-deflection. I just hope Ferrer can hang on to 4. THen Nadal might land in another quarter than Fed’s and have to deal with one of the other top 3.

      Great blog and excellent analysis as usual.

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    1. Ru-an, hope you are doing well and have a bit of time to watch Federer over the weekend.

      It was mildly frightening that Federer lost a set in the first round, but he came good in the end. Jaziri never really looked like he had enough to beat Federer (he’d been off the tour with injury for the last six months) so ultimately it might have been a good thing for Federer to be forced to play that extra set. It looked like a pretty routine match against Granollers.

      Tomic and Tsonga are out, so Davydenko and Berdych are the only obstacles to an eighth Dubai final and a shot at his sixth title. Davydenko could be dangerous in best-of-three, if he’s playing well, and Berdych is always tough for Federer. Not easy for Federer even to get to the title fight. Hope he can go all the way, though!

      [Reply]

      Ru-an Reply:

      Yes Steve I will have some time to watch this weekend. So hopefully Roger makes the final this time. That way I can at least see two matches. Shame the final has to be on Saturday.

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