Everyone who loves tennis and watches tennis has had those Federer moments when eyes protrude and the jaw drops. Beauty is certainly not the goal of competitive sports but optimal-level sports are a principal locus for the expression of human beauty, kinetic beauty.“I look at Federer and he makes things look so easy that it pisses me off,” says Agassi, eight-time Grand Slam winner.
Injuries in a sport like tennis can radically change the course one’s career takes and players suffer drastic and unimaginable turnarounds. But Roger Federer, the 35-year-old Swiss storm wrote the book on survival in the tennis jungle. Well, they say “No pain, no gain”, but it’s certainly worked the other way round for Federer as he owes a large part of his success and domination over the years to his longevity and the way his game is modeled.
Federer tore the meniscus in his left knee while running a bath for his twin daughters, a day post losing the semifinals of the Australian Open to Novak Djokovic. Until this year, Federer had avoided long-term injuries that have plagued his rival Rafael Nadal, who was also sidelined mid-clay season with a wrist injury. Federer’s clean slate as far as injury records go can unquestionably be seen as a catalyst, in the process of making him the sports’ greatest. Then, in February, he had surgery, the first of his 18-year career.
He returned from the knee surgery in April, but his injuries still seemed to shadow him around. He withdrew from the Madrid Open in May, citing a back injury, and didn’t play the Roland Garros saying, “I am still not 100 percent.” This ended a record streak of 65 straight Grand Slam singles tournaments.
Federer’s back, a sporadic problem in recent years, was the primary source of questions when he came back for the grass-court season. Late in his five-set loss to Milos Raonic, Federer slipped and fell in an awkward fashion, and immediately called a trainer to look at his surgically repaired knee. “I hope I didn’t hurt myself. I don’t slip a lot. I don’t ever fall down. It was a different fall for me than I’ve ever had,” Federer said after the match.
On July 26th he announced that he would be missing the rest of the season, which included the Rio Olympics and the US Open for rehabilitation. His mid-career sabbatical came as a shock to the tennis world. It was as if Superman disclosed that he couldn’t fly anymore.Earlier, “The doctors advised that if I want to play on the ATP World Tour injury free for another few years, as I intend to do, I must give both my knee and body the proper time to fully recover,” Federer said in a statement.
“I was very, very sad, just because I thought I was going to be lucky not having to do surgery in my career,” Federer said. “Going into surgery was difficult,” he added. “That’s when it hit me. I just got really disappointed and sad about it because that’s when I really understood what the road was going to look like.”
Knee and back injuries are the most common ones amongst tennis players. “For sure, we use our knees very much, every surface, every court,” says Gael Monfils.The big question that engulfed every tennis fan was, whether the greatest player of all time would recover to be competitive at grand slams in 2017 or not. Federer denied the six-month layoff had drawn him closer towards retirement. His 2017 31-2 win-loss record, that makes a 93.94% win percentage is proof that he’s back on the top charts and ready to beat old rivals and upcoming next-gen players alike. Rising from rank 17 to 3 in the matter of a few months is just another one of his magic tricks.
Federer, now almost 36, still moves like someone a decade younger. His wrinkles too look young. He does not have the mien of someone who’s ready to throw in the towel yet. Federer sealing his eighth Wimbledon title with a 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 win over Marin Cilic was another segment of him extending the fairy tale that his life and career have been.
With current world number one Andy Murray and the hurricane that is Novak Djokovic facing a slump in performance, Federer advises them to take a break like he did. “Once you hit 30, you’ve got to look back and think of how much tennis have I played, how much rest did I give my body over the years, how much training have I done, did I do enough, did I overdo it”, he says.
Federer says, “For me [taking a long rest] worked out. It doesn’t mean it’s going to work out for everybody. But sometimes maybe the body and the mind do need a rest. The problem is you can only play with a certain injury for a certain amount of time because what you don’t want happening is that it becomes chronic. Then even a surgery can’t help you that much anymore. That’s why I’m happy I’ve had to take my first surgery at 34 years old.”
He gets maximum return for what seems like a minimum physical effort, although that, of course, is an illusion. When he plays, it’s like poetry in free form and verse. The player, who has floated elegantly above his sport for nearly two decades with barely a twinge, also owes it to the manner in which his game is fashioned.
Federer doesn’t consume. He creates. And that is because he is an instinctive player. His fluid, easy and almost genteel movements allow his body’s muscles to go through much less micro-traumas compared to his peers, whose swings often have hitches or form issues that create much more stress on their muscles and ligaments. “When Roger is in full flight, he looks like he’s gliding,” the former No. 1 Jim Courier said. He is an all court player, who doesn’t utilize raw power exclusively to win points, helps cut down on the violence of the impacts that rattle through his racquet to his wrist, arm, shoulders, elbow, back, hip, knees, and ankles, hence effectively reducing chances of getting injured. He skims over the court, no matter what surface, and there seems to be no wasted movement. His torso always appears square, and his legs always positioned to easily recover into the court.
The efficiency with which Federer plays and schedules his season, practice sessions and recovery sessions is also a key reason to his lack of injuries over the years.
Post winning Wimbledon a few days ago, he said, “Am I surprised? Maybe a little bit. But the plan was always, hopefully, to be strong also later on in my career.”Federer again is the voice of contentment and his actions, an inspiration.
#19 tastes great pic.twitter.com/3Hv3lM5Rk9
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) July 16, 2017