The knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone,
The thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone,
The hip bone’s connected to the back bone,
La la la la la. – Dem Bones, James Wheldon Johnson
There’s a reason that every kid who speaks English knows the general gist of that song: because it’s true. Every part of a person’s body is interconnected in a far-too-complicated way to make sense to anyone but a surgical genius. The kind of surgical genius that tried to fix Roger Federer’s knee after the Great One had an accident this summer.
The point is this: human bodies are fragile, complicated things. And the bodies of athletes – particularly at the elite end of a sport – are particularly fragile and complicated. So it’s not uncommon that, when one thing ‘goes’, others start to follow. And when those others begin to mount up, confidence in the body begins to ebb and all-too-soon the athlete becomes a shadow of the player that they once were.
Now there’s no suggestion that this is what will happen to Roger Federer. In fact, most of the tennis world will be praying that it’s not. But after tearing his meniscus, his much-vaunted return has been delayed and disrupted by a variety of injuries and niggles that are not often associated with Roger. Are they connected? Possibly not.
But maybe they are.
And that is a major worry for Roger, his team, and millions of adoring fans around the world. Even worse is the thought that this could be the beginning of something (something that will ultimately result in the end of his incredible career).
When Roger was weighing up his commitments in the 2016 calendar there would have been two events that caught his eye. Wimbledon and the Olympics. The former arguably represents his best chance of winning another Major (although you cannot discount him at the US Open). While the latter will undoubtedly be his last chance to win a Gold medal in singles – arguably the one significant trophy missing from his mantlepiece.
And that is why this plague of injuries and illnesses is concerning.
At the start of the year Federer had no plans to play any clay court events other than Roland Garros. In short, he was writing off this part of the season.
Now, though, his hand is being forced. He needs to start re-building confidence in both his game and his body. The only way to do that is through match practice. And the only way he is going to get match practice is by playing on the clay and, in a few weeks time, on the grass. Neither of those surfaces are ideal for a player who needs to be at the top of his game to realise his own lofty expectations.
There’s also his ranking to consider. Roger has a lot of rankings points to defend in the coming months. A lot. And the more tournaments he misses, or more events he falters at, the more points he drops. The result is harder draws, more demanding matches, and increased physical and mental pressure.
What does this all mean? It’s hard to say. But the long and short of it is that Federer needs to find a solution to his injury / health issues very quickly if he is to realise any of his goals for 2016. If he doesn’t, the door to another Major victory will close a little bit more, while the door to an Olympic gold medal in singles will close forever.
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