The pull out

Can an all-time great treat the French Open as a warm-up to Wimbledon? Federer touches off a question.

Did Roger Federer break any rule by withdrawing midway through the French Open? No. Did he give his best during the three rounds played on his least-favourite surface, the Parisian clay? By all accounts, he did. With the pandemic-time night curfew in place, Federer was at the empty stadium till 12.45 am as his third-round match stretched for three-and-a-half hours. Returning to the tour after 18 months and two knee surgeries, the 39-year-old played four brutal tie-breakers to beat his 27-year-old German rival. After the draining midnight outing, he was advised to take a break from the unforgiving clay surface and prepare for the Wimbledon grass, where the rallies are shorter and he has a chance to equal Martina Navratilova’s count of nine singles titles.

The high-profile pull out from the draw that hypothetically pitted Federer against Novak Djokovic in the quarter-final and maybe Rafael Nadal in the semi-final has touched off a collective sigh of disappointment from fans desperate to catch a Big Three clash after the lockdown lull. There were also murmurs of disapproval from those who saw the walkout as a privileged act of a pampered star. Former player and now TV pundit Patrick McEnroe said Federer shouldn’t have entered a tournament he knew he wouldn’t be able to complete. “And a lot of people say he’s Roger Federer… He’s earned this right, and I understand that, but I still don’t like it,” he said.

He might be an all-time great but can he treat the French Open as a warm-up to Wimbledon? In his own defence, Federer said, “It’s important that I listen to my body”. He gave it all while he was on court. But once he stepped off it, exhausted, it was a choice between listening to those who said his withdrawal from the famed Grand Slam on clay was disrespectful, or to his ageing limbs and dodgy knees. He took the call, and it was part of the game.

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