An explanation for world No. 1 Roger Federer’s sluggish start to the 2008 season came to light on Friday when he told the New York Times he is shaking off the effects of mononucleosis.
In February the Swiss fell ill for the third time in the last six weeks, and tests in Switzerland and Dubai revealed the disease. Federer failed to win a title in January or February of 2008, the first time since 1999 he came up short of a tour title in the first two months of a season.
“The doctors said I must have had it for at least six weeks, which went all the way back to December,” Federer told the New York Times. “When I heard it was mono, I was actually even more happy to have made the semifinals of the Australian Open, because probably a doctor would have said, ‘You’re not allowed or can’t play.'”
Federer will next take to the court on Monday in an exhibition against Pete Sampras, televised on the Tennis Channel, and says he will be fit after a first-round loss in Dubai.
“They weren’t sure I was over it, but now I’m creating antibodies, and this really shows you are over it,” he said. “But I lost a lot of fitness. I was feeling so great in December up until the moment I got sick, so this has been my problem the last couple weeks: really getting back on track. I haven’t practiced and couldn’t really work out the way I wanted to, because you have to be very careful with mono.”
Over the past few months the Swiss has seen his ranking lead shrink over world No. 2 Rafael Nadal and No. 3 Novak Djokovic. In his assured-bordering-cocky manner, the Swiss says the next generation has arrived, but he remains ready for the challenge.
“For me, it was only a matter of time before the younger guys were going to come up,” Federer said. “Now that they’re here, they’re good and everything, but I’m still No. 1 in the world.”
If an exhibition in Jacksonville, Fla., on Thursday was any indication, Federer should have little problem with Pete Sampras in his exhibition at Madison Square Garden on Monday night. On Thursday Sampras lost in three sets to Todd Martin due to a slew of unforced errors and a backhand that found the net and backstop more often than the court.
Upon splitting sets with Martin in Jacksonville, boos rained down on the two players from the crowd when the chair umpire announced the players would play a third-set tiebreak instead of a third set. The well-liquored crowd let loose with a few minutes of booing until the chair umpire then announced that the two players would play out the third set, with the crowd erupting in cheers. Sampras then set about his business as if the decision cut into his dinner plans, looking disinterested in going down 0-3 before losing the decider 3-6.
Sampras beat Federer in their most recent meeting, the third of a three-stop exhibition tour of Asia last year.
Federer said he did not mention his bout with Mono until now because he didn’t want to take away from wins by opponents Djokovic (Australian Open) and Murray (Dubai) over the last two months.
The Swiss will need all his energy over the next month in the hot conditions at Indian Wells and Miami, where he could potentially lose the No. 1 ranking to Nadal.
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