Is Roger Federer Too Stubborn For His Own Good?
by Sean Randall | July 26th, 2013, 2:07 pm

I said it before, one of the great, underrated accomplishments of Roger Federer has been his relative injury-free career. Sure, Federer dealt with a bout of mono in 2008, missed a couple of events in 2006 due to an ankle sprain, but otherwise the Swiss has avoided any serious concerns with his health.

That is until just recently.

As we know Federer has been battling a chronic back injury for a while now. It apparently flared up in a loss to Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon in 2010. He also had to withdraw from Doha last year and was questionable to even compete at the Australia Open, but he play shrugging off the injury to reach the semifinals.

And then at Wimbledon last July, twice he fought through the pain and it paid off as he won his 17th and what could be his last Grand Slam, that is if doesn’t take better care of his body.

As you age the injuries catch up. There is no shame in it and there’s just no avoiding it, ask any athlete. It’s a rite of passage. Father Time doesn’t care. He just rolls on. And Federer, now just weeks shy of his 32nd birthday, won’t get a pass here either.

What led me to write this wasn’t those back issues of last year or even when he was visibly suffering at Indian Wells against Rafael Nadal in March. What intrugied me were the comments he made after he lost, almost embarrassingly, yesterday in front of his biggest fans in Gstaad to Daniel Brands 6-3, 6-4.

“I decided after today’s warm-up whether I would play or not,” Federer stated afterward. “I’m happy that I was able to play because I’ve had problems for some time now, already in Hamburg. But it didn’t get worse during today’s match. I’m positive and I felt that it was getting better during the last few days.”

On a Swiss sports website, the translated headline read after the loss, Federer: “They said I should not play”. And inside that same story, Federer is quoted as saying (again, through translation), “Some of my team were of the opinion that it is wrong. They told me not to play.”

My translation of mess is this: Federer’s team didn’t want him to play Gstaad at all. But Roger understandably didn’t want to deny him home fans and his new cow a chance to see him play in Gstaad for the first time since 2004 (and maybe the last time?). Plus, he’s played through and won many matches before with that same bad back.

Also worth noting is if as Roger says his back was “getting better during the last few days” why was there any uncertainty over playing? Why leave that decision until after the warm-up if all is well?

In the end since Roger’s the boss, he wins.

So was it worth it? If Roger had to do it again would he have played Gstaad, risking further injury? Who knows. But he’s not better for it and likely neither is his back which probably could have benefited from a few extra days off.

In Roger’s defense, unless your faced with having to fight an in-prime Mike Tyson, every athlete wants to get in the ring. That’s what they do. That’s who they are. That’s what they live for. And I can’t blame them for wanting to get out there and compete.

But there come a time because of injury or illness to just stop. To say no. Rafael Nadal, who missed the Olympics last year to rest that knee, has been through that. As has Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Ivan Lendl, Serena Williams, Boris Becker and most recently Andy Murray who skipped the French to rest his back injury and look how nicely that paid off for the Scot!

Federer, though, has never missed a Slam and he’s hardly ever even missed those smaller events let alone retiring from a mactch! He’s been the iron man of tennis this generation. So the idea for him not playing to rest an injury must a new, absolutely foreign experience. It just has to be.

Of course everyone wants to see Federer play and he’s usually nice enough to give them a great show. But the fact is he’s no longer 25 anymore and when his body begins to breakdown he might be best served by paying more attention to what its saying. Sure, he can switch coaches, racquets and sponsors with the ease of a flick forehand winner, but he’s only got one and only one body. And he better take notes because that could be his toughest opponent yet going forward.

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29 Comments for Is Roger Federer Too Stubborn For His Own Good?

pitchaboy Says:

Dont know whether his back issue is muscle spasms or it is something worse like degnerative discopathy or inflammation of the facet joints. They tend to be chronic and recurrent and can end your career. He says very little.

Steve 27 Says:

He needs a vacation and go to the Tibet to find answers. He is smart I think he will know when will be the day of his retirement. But he needs a break now.

Tennis x hippy chic Says:

Im not calling for his retirement or anything,but it cant be much fun losing to lesser players,that he would at one time have beaten with his eyes closed,especially with back problems too,but i think its probably time to take stock of things,give it till the end of the year to see how things pan out,nobody would think any the less of him,its no disgace,hes just reaching the natural conclusion of whats been a fabulous career,although i still believe he will bounce back after all he is Roger Federer.

skeezer Says:


Great write and research. Fed rarely talks about his back, and keeps the talk on Tennis. That in it self is a act of courage. Excuses are always at a minimum with this guy.

Stubborn? I believe so. And he could have went even further in his career if not for that achilles heal. But maybe that same stubborness fot him all those records.

kjb Says:

Fed has dealt with back issues from the start of his career. Thats how he avoided Switzerlands 2 year mandatory military service. As he gets older I think hes having a harder time keeping it in check. He will be back in form but the dips and valleys in his game will become more pronounced in the next few years. He has played almost 1200 matches and has been essentially the Cal Ripken of tennis. I think now that his quarterfinal streak is over he should take his time to get healthy and dial in the new racquet and come back for another run next season.

Brando Says:

Great write up Sean. Enjoyable read. Fed does seem a. Extremely proud man- especially regarding his fitness. It’s a admirable trait in some ways but could also be a detrimental one regarding his back. I think Fed needs to place the highest importance to keeping his body in good health from hereforth. Now if that means withdrawing from matches, events etc then he should do so. It’s not a shameful thing: but the only smart thing to do. His body has a bigger right over him than his ATP commitments! Right now it’s clearly asking for a rest due to his back. Hence IMO I honestly think he should skip Rogers Cup. He has 0 points to defend there and right now realistically speaking he won’t gain much either. It’s best he takes a good rest and return for Cincy IMO. A fresh Fed is still a real threat there for the title IMO.

Abe Says:

I love you Federer, please focus on your health and take a break coz I can’t watch a tournament when ur not in it. Plz plz plz, focus on the back injury now before it becomes worse. Happy birthday “Roger” and hope all ur wishes come true 😊

Polo Says:

Roger better listen to what his doctor says. There’s no point continuing to play with a bad back. That plus his age, lessen his chances of winning while risking further injury that could debilitate him the rest of his life. The risks outweigh the gains. Time to think of his family and kids and enjoying life with them.

James Says:

His health should come first. To hell with Rogers cup, Cincy, even the US Open. He needs to get fit first. Nothing else should matter at this point. Once he’s healthy, the man is still good enough for a few more titles.

Alex Says:

Sad day for tennis. I’m happy that its given some lifeless souls something to gloat about though, at least they can pass there days with a purposes. I cant help but laugh though, when all is done and dusted, these people that I am calling out have a miserable existence as is evident by the posts I read here(occasionally during work). That in itself should be reward enough. Well some of us enjoy this beautiful life, these poor confused souls spend there days trying to make others miserable. Living vicariously through another is not living, note to some of you. Wasted words, cant make a rock bleed, there is still a lovely satisfaction in this though.

#The best revenge is living a happy life

Kimberly Says:

I will miss Roger if he doesn’t play. He’s not my fav by a long shot but tennis isn’t the same without him. Looking forward to an upcoming tourney where all the big 4 play healthy.


skeezer Says:

I remember Agassi’s last tourney at USO and nagging bad back sent him into retirement. For sure it hampers your movement.

Eric Says:

Roger needs to take a leaf out of Rafa’s chronic-injury-handling playbook. If the back is the real problem – which, after the past month, seems undeniable – it’s time to take some months off the tour (at least if there’s any chance of that helping).

If it’s his back that’s the real problem this season, though, switching racquets was certainly a weirder decision.

the DA Says:

^ not just Agassi but it forced Lendl to retire also.

holdserve Says:

Did Fed get a fat appearance fee for playing at Gstaad? If he did that would explain why he played. Fed is very particular about getting huge sums regularly.
When he had just started and IMG wasn’t getting him enough sponsorships, he left them and later came back when Forstmann promised him huge sponsorships.
Money really motivates our man.

Michael Says:

Well, Roger played for the sake of the crowd and he didn’t want to disappoint them at the last moment. Roger’s ailing back is spelling trouble and thankfully he is in the twilight of his career. I do not think Roger can ever be a force he once was. Forget about majors, he is struggling even in smaller tournaments. This is because of the age factor as also the ailing back which have dealt a double whammy. But Roger can be proud that he was the fittest athelete the Professional Tennis has known. When his compatriots are struggling with an injury prone career, Roger was relatively unscathed. But the fairy tale has come to an end and Roger is struggling.

John Nicodemus Says:

I am one of his greatest fans. I admire him, adore him and hold him in the highest esteem. For his classy tennis, classy looks, classy behaviour and would love to see him play at his best. But I hate to seem losing to every tom dick and harry – bad back, or whatever the reason. Money should not matter to him. He will still earn millions even after retirement and hanging up his racquet, because he has been a legend and an icon, with lots of admirers round the world. He MUST retire gracefully NOW – rather than when people keep asking why the hell he is still hanging on. If he continues to play and lose the way he is just now, he will definitely lose lot of esteem. I have been accustomed to sit up and watch his magnificent tennis, but nowadays, when he comes on court, I keep telling folks around, he has come out to lose again. The kind of poor tennis he is playing does no good to his iconic status. I LOVE ROGER, BUT I WANT HIM TO IMMEDIATELY ANNOUNCE HIS RETIREMENT AT THE END OF 2013 AND BOW OUT IN REMAINING TOURNAMENTS THIS HEAR TO RESPECTFUL ADULATION AT THE END OF EVERY MATCH.

Colin Says:

Roger’s stubbornness has affected his career for a long time. Correct me if I’m wrong, but when he had the mono episode, didn’t he try once or maybe twice, to come back before he was ready?

Then there is the tennis itself. I have often heard commentators remarking on his reluctance to yield territory on the court – standing close to the baseline so that an opponent using heavy topspin (most obviously Rafa)could push him back on his heels, unable to get on top of the ball to return it.

The stubbornness stems largely from pride and huge self-confidence, both of which he has been entitled to. In his glorious prime he just had to come on court, do his thing, and he’d win. Now this is no longer a given, he is perilously close to being in denial.

I remember Agassi saying, shortly before he retired,”If you saw me walking home of an evening, you’d never guess I was a thirty-something professional athlete.”

Back trouble is the curse of the human race (one of several disadvantages of walking on two legs), and when your back complains, it’s a good idea to listen to it!

holdserve Says:

Federer just plays by intuition and is not interested in strategies. He did not have a coach for years. He is unable to modify his style to counter the opponent.
Nadal on the other hand, apart from being wonderfully talented,is a thinking player.

skeezer Says:

Good post.

tennismonger Says:

@ skeezer – Ditto for Colin’s comment

Great champions can be maddeningly stubborn – Connors & Becker come to mind.

For Fed, the thought of missing the last major of the year may be difficult to bear given his astonishing attendance record.

But he may need to pull the plug for 2013 just as Rafa did last year.

Like many here, I’ve still got my fingers crossed for Fed this summer.

madmax Says:

holdserve Says:
Did Fed get a fat appearance fee for playing at Gstaad? If he did that would explain why he played. Fed is very particular about getting huge sums regularly.
When he had just started and IMG wasn’t getting him enough sponsorships, he left them and later came back when Forstmann promised him huge sponsorships.
Money really motivates our man.

July 26th, 2013 at 11:07 pm


I really don’t think that fed is interested in appearance fees. He would play because, although he considered withdrawing the morning of the match against brands, he has a) never done this before b) would not want to disappoint the fans – if he did – he would pay the fine, would mean nothing. But he is stubborn as regards his commitment to the fans and the organisers.

Hell, this is Roger Federer we are talking about!

Money has nothing to do with it.

I really really cross my fingers for fed and hope that 2013 is the same as 2008 when he defied the tennis world by snatching the last GS of the year, and came back with avengeance.

Peter Says:

Roger has said for many years that he wants to play to 34 or older. That has always been his game plan, and it’s never wavered. Why this drumbeat for him to retire? It started as early as ’08 and hasn’t let up since, quieted only temporarily by grand slam wins. Haas is achieving quality results at 35. Triathletes peak at 35. Agassi played to 36. Why shouldn’t Roger play at 32? Because he lost to two guys? Seriously? Roger has always come across as someone who played for the love of the sport, and I think he would betray those who believed this about him if he did NOT continue (pending injury: and I do not think he has much to worry about at this stage, merely overuse). I would think much more of him if he really did play while staying in the top 30 than if he retired due to not being able to handle the losses.

Steve 27 Says:

Peter, Federer at 32 has played almost the same matches as Agassi at age 36. Wear is very different
between these two.

holdserve Says:

madmax, how can you say Fed is not interested in money? He is famous for demanding huge fees.
The Basel tournament director was so put off by Fed’s greed that he went public with his complaints and also signed up Rafa.Fed has made strange statements claiming he will play Basel with or without the contract. He seems to imply it is his management guys insisting on a hefty fee and he is unable to over rule them and sign the contract. What a load of crap. He is the boss. Does he seriously expect anyone to believe? But this is his ploy to pretend that he knows nothing about finances, he only plays tennis and can take no decisions in other matters!!!!! All the demands for hefty fees, he knows nothing about them.
Let us not forget he had left IMG in 2003 because they did not get him as many sponsorships as he thought was his due and he and Mirka managed his affairs till Forstmann won him back to IMG in 2005 with promises of huge sponsorships.
Yes, it is Federer we are talking about.

hawkeye Says:

madmax, not quite the case. Remember Basel negotiations prior to Fed’s eventual commitment?

“Basel tournament director Roger Brennwald discusses his event’s relationship with Roger Federer, and says the two sides have yet to reach an agreement on his appearance fee for the October tournament.

“Roger has always [been our] top priority,” Brennwald told the Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger. “We have launched campaigns in the millions for him and allowed him to promote his sponsors, which is not very common. We are grateful for the time we were allowed to have with him. The thing is very simple: We have made an offer to him, which he refused. We have submitted a second offer, which he has not responded to. We do not normally pay a seven-figure [appearance fee].”

Brennwald also complained that he is unable to speak with Federer directly and always has to go through his agent Tony Godsick.

“We actually speak the same language, but with Godsick it’s not fun,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I can contact Djokovic or Murray if I want. I have spoken personally with Nadal. But with Roger it’s not possible.”

Hawkeye Says:

Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg)
Posted at 28 July, 2013 6:27 AM on Twitter
“Sergiy Stakhovsky has lost five straight matches since shock Wimbledon win over Federer–latest in Kitzbuhel qualies to No356 Martin Linzer.”


Thomas Says:

Not that shocking. In recent history, pretty much everyone who had a big win over a top male tennis player, has a had a massive let down afterwards. Soderling is the only real exception I can think of.(After beating nadal at RG, he became a staple top 10 player.)

tennisfansince76 Says:

Given that Fed has been battling a bad back since post AO his decision to play these 2 clay court tourneys is puzzling. the proper thing to do would have been to rest and get treatment and try to come into Montreal in good condition. after all he had no pts to defend there so a good place to start evaluating the new raquet

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