Roger Federer has addressed nagging retirement questions once again after the six-time champion was knocked out of the 2020 Australian Open.
The scoreline may have shown a straight-sets demolition job by Novak Djokovic, but tennis fans could see the gritty fight that Federer put in during his 7-6 6-4 6-3 semi-final loss. Before the match, it wasn’t even a certainty he would play, as he prepared behind closed doors and speculation grew that he might not be able to take to Rod Laver Arena.
The second-oldest quarter-finalist in Australian Open history endured a rigorous lead-up to the semi-final against Djokovic, having survived five-set epics to defeat John Millman and Tennys Sandgren, and it was clear he was battling groin and back injuries on Thursday night.
“Obviously he was hurting. You could see it in his movement. Respect to him for trying his best,” Djokovic said of Federer post-match.
Still, as one tennis journalist put it so succinctly, this was ‘F— it Federer’. And he was a force to be reckoned with during his Australian Open campaign for that reason.
It would take more than a bit of discomfort to keep him from playing in a grand slam semi-final.
He knew his body wasn’t 100 percent; that younger competition would beat him physically. But his superhuman performances up until his elimination from the tournament were a sight to behold.
At 38 in Melbourne this year – the same age as long-retired Australian Open men’s singles finalist Lleyton Hewitt – the much-admired ‘G.O.A.T’ still showed flashes of those one-handed backhands and expertly-crafted points, despite his body’s distress.
Injuries threatened to end his incredible record (in over 1500 encounters in his career) of never retiring mid-match, however Federer fought on through his semi-final, admitting afterwards that he knew he had just “a three percent chance” to beat the Serb.
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With injuries now more of a factor for Federer, it might lead some to ask if retirement is drawing closer.
But when men half his age face uphill battles to just get past the first round at a grand slam, as Federer – nearing 40 – is still consistently contending to add to his record-breaking major total (20), why would he stop?
“You never know what the future holds. But especially my age, you don’t know,” Federer said, as reporters quizzed him on the retirement question.
“I’m confident. I’m happy how I’m feeling, to be honest. Got through a good nice training block. No plans to retire.
“We’ll see how the year goes, how everything is with the family. We’ll go from there.
“But of course I hope to be back.
“I think by having the year that I had last year, also with what I have in my game, how I’m playing, I do feel that (I can win one or two more slams).”
Federer is also well aware that Djokovic is hot on his heels with 16 grand slam titles, and being six years his junior and by far the healthiest of the formidable ‘Big Four’ that dominated the tour in the last decade, there’s every chance the Serb will overtake the ‘Swiss Maestro’ if he walked away today.
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Tennis legend Mats Wilander said the way Federer is able to throw all caution to the wind in his Australian Open matches and in his career at the moment, goes against the trend of other older players, who try not to further hurt their vulnerable bodies.
“Some older players have started thinking ‘I should retire because I am not feeling good because I am thinking long term’, meaning ‘I am going to play for three more years and I’m 35 or 36 or 37 years old’,” Wilander told Express UK.
“It seems weird they are thinking long term when the younger players are thinking short term but it is kind of the way.
“For that reason I am kind of surprised he didn’t say ‘I can’t win this match anyway’ [against Djokovic], but at the same time the effort level that he put in for those sets that he won in the end [against Sandgren], he would not have bet a dollar on himself winning the whole match after that second set when he hurt himself [in the quarter-final].
“Somehow he still wins, he just doesn’t want to retire. It is in his make-up to give the people money value who are there.”
But Wilander believes that Federer’s retirement is closer than even he is ready to admit publicly.
“I have a feeling that long-term doesn’t mean three years for him any more. It means a month,” Wilander added.
“I think he is thinking long-term but not in years.
“He will be thinking ‘Can I get myself pretty healthy to give myself a shot of winning Wimbledon’ is what I think long-term means to him.
“And the Olympics because he has never won.”
Upon reflecting on his performance at the end of his 21st Australian Open campaign, Federer said he was content in making the semi-finals, and had no regrets on his game-day decision to play through the pain.
“I don’t think I would have gone on court if I felt like I had no chance to win,” Federer said.
“We saw I was still being able to make a match out of it.
“Once in the match, I felt like I was probably going to be able to finish, which was a good thing.
“At the end of the day, I’m very happy. I’ve got to be happy with what I achieved.”
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