Are Roger Federer’s Knees Affecting His Performance on Court?

Published 07/10/2021, 6:30 PM EDT
Tennis – Wimbledon – All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, London, Britain – July 7, 2021 Switzerland’s Roger Federer reacts during his quarter final match against Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz REUTERS/Toby Melville


One wouldn’t have expected Roger Federer to lie to himself or his fans on where he stood as a player on return from a second knee surgery. And the Swiss, as is his wont, was blunt and brutally honest with his assessment on how far he was from the player that reached the semifinals of 2019 Australian Open, his last bit of action before the surgery.

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Speaking to reporters ahead of his much-anticipated return after being away from the whirl and swing of professional tennis for close to 14 months, Federer had said he had come to ATP Doha with zero expectations and would happily settle for a win or two.

As it turned out, he won his comeback match against British No.1 Dan Evans but lost the day after to big-hitting Georgian and eventual champion Nikoloz Basilashvili.

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He had since preferred slow progress on the Tour as opposed to enlisting in a flood of events and putting his body on the line and at risk of further wear and tear.

Roger Federer had underlined importance of not pushing himself too much on return

In several interviews ever since, Federer had sought to underline the importance of putting in more work at training and preserving his dodgy knees for priority events, which, in his own words, were the Wimbledon Championships, Tokyo Olympics and the US Open.

In his opening-round defeat on his maiden appearance at the Geneva Open this year, one could sense an element of hesitancy in his game, a hint of slowness in getting off the blocks and straining his knees to chase down balls.

While many might have put that down to the champion holding himself back for Roland-Garros and Wimbledon, what followed at the French Open left one in no doubt that he was carrying the scars of his second knee surgery in his head.

Getting himself into the second week at Roland-Garros on return, Federer announced that he was pulling out of the draw on the advice of his team.

Tennis – Wimbledon – All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, London, Britain – July 7, 2021 Switzerland’s Roger Federer wipes his face during his quarter final match against Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz REUTERS/Toby Melville

The proverbial trigger for his decision was the labored third-round win over German Dominik Koepfer, with some reports suggesting that he felt some pain in his knee and chose not to take chances ahead of the grass court swing.

Federer pulled out of French Open to rest his knees ahead of Wimbledon

Arriving at Halle in the quest of his 11th career title and some confidence building ahead of All England, Federer fell in the last-16 to Felix Auger-Aliassime.

Again, a careful observer wouldn’t have missed an element of self-doubt and unwillingness to put his everything on the line to get the right result. That in itself was a lesser version of Federer than the world had come to see and love.

If one had a foreboding watching the champion at Halle, it wasn’t without reason.

Even in his journey to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, there were moments in his matches where Federer let the momentum slip from a position of absolute strength. The third-round win over Briton Cameron Norrie, where he dropped the third set after cruising the previous two, is a case in point.

The pattern that seems to have emerged from Federer’s recent performances on Tour is that the scars from the knee surgery are affecting his psyche and, by extension, his game.

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As to how soon Federer can put aside concerns around his knees and focus purely on tennis, if at all, is something only he can answer.

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But it is surely what he needs to do to shake off his uptight diffidence and regain his old fluidity on court and get back to his absolute best.

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Priyabrata Chowdhury

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Priyabrata Chowdhury is a tennis author for EssentiallySports. He has been a print journalist for a decade, producing news pages for leading national dailies such as the Hindustan Times and The New Indian Express. His passion for sports eventually drove him to tennis writing.

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