It has long been the case that when Roger Federer sneezes, tennis catches a cold.
So his latest injury announcement will send a shiver of trepidation through the sport. Its international nature is already causing multiple difficulties as it attempts to get back to some echo of normality.
Federer began the day by posting a notice that he has undergone a second minor knee operation. The procedure will keep him out of whatever happens between now and the 2021 Australian Open.
Roger Federer’s latest injury news will send a shiver of trepidation through the sport of tennis
Writing on his social media, tennis legend Federer confirmed he has undergone knee surgery
It means that he will have played just one tournament in 2020, making it his least active season since he made his tour debut as a 16-year-old in 1998.
This second procedure in four months on his right knee (the first was in February) is a reminder that even he cannot defy the ageing process forever.
The game’s authorities will be in unison with his fans in hoping the day of retirement can be delayed as long as possible.
For Federer will be irreplaceable as a drawcard – just ask those who set the schedule every year for the ATP Finals at London’s 02 Arena with its round-robin format.
They will tell you of the effect which happens at the London event, which, by necessity, can only announce its daily programme 24 hours in advance, because it is dependent on how group results have panned out.
With the aim to fill as many seats as possible – something achieved with remarkable success since it arrived in the capital in 2009 – they know that Federer is in a different league to anyone else when it comes to shifting tickets at short notice.
Federer applauds the fans in February after beating Rafael Nadal at ‘The Match’ in Cape Town
Authorities will be with fans in hoping the day of retirement can be delayed as long as possible
Rafael Nadal does good business, ahead of Andy Murray (when playing) and Novak Djokovic. But as soon as Federer has been slotted into the schedule it ignites an online scramble for seats like no other, and officials know that within barely an hour they will be posting ‘House Full’ notices.
Therefore many will be yearning for this not to be the beginning of the end as he plots to return in Melbourne. His near direct contemporary Serena Williams – who also turns 40 next year – will create a comparable void for the women’s game whenever she departs.
When it comes to Federer his latest issue does not appear to be a major one. The fact remains that in 2019 he was able to play 63 singles matches, and made the last four at the Australian Open in January.
‘I will look forward to seeing everyone back on tour at the start of the 2021 season,’ he assured.
The last time Federer suddenly reappeared in Melbourne after a long break, in 2017, he won
He also knows that the last time he suddenly reappeared in Melbourne after a long break, in 2017, it worked so well that he actually won the title.
The 39-year-old Swiss has always been a strategic thinker, and there was never going to be much upside for him in risking anything at all to play in whatever transpires for a resurrected 2020 calendar.
By opting out now he removes himself from the arguments about what, if any, conditions the US Open will be played under. There could be severe restrictions on where players can stay and who they can bring with them.
The mooted swing on his least favoured clay in early autumn, especially after an abrupt switch from hard courts, would have been difficult for him even without concerns over his knee.
Federer won his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon back in 2003 and now has 20 to his name
And then how many players will wish to make the trip to China, with the tour possibly moving on there afterwards? The tournament he would most miss playing is that in his hometown of Basle, still on the programme for late October.
This event, where he once served as a ballboy, is one that gets mentioned when speculation arises over where he might choose to make any valedictory appearance.
For now, unless the body becomes totally uncooperative, you would certainly expect him to want to play Wimbledon next year and the Olympics in Tokyo, particularly given his links to clothing sponsors Uniqlo. Basle in October 2021 is still 16 months away.
Those who understand the economics of the sport will be grateful that Federer’s career has extended as long as it has. The Covid-19 crisis and its fallout should only concentrate minds on the fact that many of this generation’s biggest names are either in the twilight, fast approaching it, or in Maria Sharapova’s case already gone.
The chill wind is likely to manifest itself in prize-money cuts for this year’s US Open, if it happens at all. Having paid out $57million in 2019 it is expected to be below $50m this time around.
Federer has won the French Open once, in 2009 (pictured), but won’t play at the 2020 edition
Federer’s absence is a blow to Flushing Meadows, and Novak Djokovic continues to cast doubt on whether he would attend with restrictions. Three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka looks to be another non-runner.
Amid various player meetings taking place, Djokovic told Serbian state broadcaster RTS of his recurring concerns. He suggested that he might not play until Madrid in early September.
‘Most of the players I have talked to were quite negative on whether they would go there (New York),’ Djokovic said. ‘For me currently, as things stand, most probably the season will continue on clay at the beginning of September.’
As British No 1 Dan Evans articulated earlier this week, however, many of those whose earning power has been hit over recent months would be keen to play at Flushing Meadows, whatever the stipulations.
According to sources at the ATP Tour a final decision on the US Open is still not expected until next week.