There’s a lot to talk about after Roger Federer withdrew from Sunday’s championship match at the ATP World Tour Finals.
Much speculation has surrounded Federer’s actual reasons for choosing not to play. Some believe that the Swiss is actually dealing with a legitimate back injury, one that most were first made aware of in his address to the crowd 30 minutes before the final was supposed to start.
Others are more skeptical, and have suggested that his walkover may have been the byproduct of a dispute he had with compatriot Stan Wawrinka. It’s also worth discussing how the ATP handled the aftermath of Federer’s withdrawal, and whether or not fans who came expecting a Federer-Djokovic final should be disappointed.
Let’s start with the walkover. The chances of Federer not playing this match were astronomically low from the outset. In his previous 1,220 matches, the former No. 1 had only given his opponent a walkover on two occasions. This works out to a .001% career post-tournament withdrawal percentage. In addition, Federer has never retired in the middle of the match. These stats illustrate not only his physical and mental longevity, but also his self-awareness of his own body. He knows that, because of the free-flowing, fluid nature of his game, he’s able to push his body further than most other players. At the same time, he is human, so injuries can – and do – hamper him, but not as much as they hamper other players. It seems hard to reconcile Federer’s history of not withdrawing or retiring from matches with the allegations that he wasn’t actually hurt.
Another theory that is swirling around is that Federer retired after an argument with Wawrinka. Most of these claims are based only on rumor and unproven testimonies so, in the words of John McEnroe, it should be noted that nothing has been confirmed regarding this situation.
With that said, at 5-5, 40-40 during their semifinal, Wawrinka paused prior to Federer serving and directly confronted a member of the crowd, ostensibly appealing to chair umpire Cedric Mourier to do something.
“Did you hear what she said?” Wawrinka said to Mourier, who encouraged Stan to ignore it, responding, “Stan, not now.”
Whether Mourier heard what was said is interesting, because it is now believed by some that he was actually responding to Mirka Federer, Roger’s wife. At the time, Federer had no reaction to Wawrinka chastising the individual in the crowd. Maybe he didn’t notice if Wawrinka had been motioning towards Mirka, but it is still curious.
Circling back to the point of this discussion, whether or not it was actually Mirka is ancillary. We need to ask ourselves if Roger Federer, a player who has only withdrawn from an event three times in his entire career which has spanned the course of three decades now, is going to retire from an event because his previous opponent had a dispute with his wife. The chances of such a sensational sequence of events having occurred seems to be very low. At the end of the day, what does a brief confrontation that Wawrinka allegedly had with Federer’s wife have to do with Federer playing the final against Novak Djokovic?
Probably not much.
Some will argue further, that this alleged Mirka-Stan feud may have created some concerns leading up to the Davis Cup final. That is a reasonable argument to make, but can any of us really imagine a scenario where Federer felt bad enough about it to withdraw from the World Tour Finals – as if that would have made anyone feel better – or one where Wawrinka convinces Federer to withdraw from the final to make amends for his on-court clash with Mirka. We are talking about some way out in left-field conspiracy theories here.
If Federer doesn’t end up playing in the Davis Cup final next weekend against France, we’ll know for certain that he was actually hurt and even if he doesn’t, what in Federer’s past should lead us to believe that he is lying about an injury?
Moving on to the ATP: let’s give Chris Kermode, Executive Chairman and President, along with Djokovic, Andy Murray, Pat Cash, Tim Henman, and John McEnroe a big round of applause. In the face of a very a disappointing and controversial end to a consistently bizarre ATP World Tour Finals, they managed to keep the ship from sinking by providing us with two entertaining exhibition sets.
Though obviously not compensation for the actual final, neither set was required of anyone, and represents that the ATP did its part in picking up the pieces at the end of a pretty substandard event.
Djokovic was crowned the champion of the event on Sunday, but won his third consecutive title in the most anticlimactic fashion possible. He wanted to be on court under entirely different circumstances, but performed nobly in showing up and providing fans with a fun match against Murray. Admitting to have been pulled from the couch where he’d been playing video games when Chris Kermode called to see if he could play, Murray had even less of a reason to be there. Four days prior, he was handed one of the worst defeats of his career, ironically at the hands of Federer. It was likely that a tennis court wasn’t the first thing he wanted to see after a backbreaking swing of fall tournaments.
Nevertheless, Murray and Djokovic duked it out in a 47 minute pro-set before Murray teamed up with John McEnroe to take on Pat Cash and Tim Henman in a second pro-set that lasted three minutes more. When Djokovic and Federer played in Shanghai earlier this fall, they played 20 games in 1 hour and 35 minutes. The London crowd got to see 27 games in slightly less time. While an exhibition could never substitute the final of such a big event, it’s somethingm and for that the ATP and the willing participants in these exhibitions deserve some kudos.
It was also announced that ticket holders would receive notification within 48 hours on Sunday so we can presume that they are going to receive some sort of compensation for the final that never was.