Former World No.1 Roger Federer announced on Tuesday that he will miss the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio along with the rest of the 2016 tennis season in order to continue rehabbing his left knee following a February surgery to repair a torn meniscus that he suffered off the court.
The unthinkable picture of men's tennis without Federer has become at least a temporary reality. Federer — the same fixture who played in a record 65 consecutive Grand Slams before missing this year's French Open, has won at least one title every year since 2001 and been ranked in the world’s top 10 since 2002 — will not compete until 2017.
"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, who has played five tournaments including Wimbledon since his surgery, wrote in a Facebook post. “The silver lining is that this experience has made me realize how lucky I have been throughout my career with very few injuries.”
Federer — a 17-time Grand Slam champion who is widely considered the best player ever — has been the face of men’s tennis for nearly the entirety of his 18-year-career. And even though the “Swiss Maestro” is no longer at the very top of the sport, his popularity remains the same.
While top-ranked Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic have chased history, the same question has surfaced time and time again at every Grand Slam — could Roger Federer win an 18th major?
Earlier this month when Milos Raonic defeated Federer in their Wimbledon semifinal, there was more talk about the 34-year-old missing an opportunity to reach his 28th Grand Slam final than the young Canadian reaching his first. Based on his Facebook post, Federer still believes that he has more to give.
"I am as motivated as ever and plan to put all my energy towards coming back strong, healthy and in shape to play attacking tennis in 2017," Federer wrote.
Following the long twilight of Federer’s career has been much like watching an hourglass. There is nothing extraordinary happening but bits of sand slowly falling over time. He has made at least the semifinals in eight of 15 major appearances since his last Grand Slam win at Wimbledon in 2012. Yet while those results are not relatively special for him, watching the grains drop one by one remains fascinating. Despite recent disappointments, the world cannot help but watch Federer try to win just one more major.
The problem is that this year's knee injury — caused by a freak accident — forced Federer to turn his hourglass over. Even if he returns in January, the soon-to-be 35-year-old's ranking is virtually guaranteed to sit outside of the top-10 pending results for the rest of the season. The wait for one of the most revered athletes in sports to break through just got longer, and perhaps this time his hourglass will not be counting down until the champion’s next major title, but the end of an illustrious career.