It was a huge disappointment for spectators and worldwide television viewers, when they heard about the injury-forced retirement announced by Roger Federer ahead of his final match with Novak Djokovic on Sunday. As per Federer, he suffered a back injury that would not allow him to take the court against Djokovic in the Barclays ATP World Tour Final. To people at large, the announcement sounded strange since Federer had made a great exhibition of his game in the tournament until he reached the final. He scored comprehensive victories over his rivals in the round robin league and looked in superb touch. Even in his semifinal match against compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka on Saturday night, the six time ATP Tour champion showed his class as he saved four match points and brought himself back from the brink of defeat to beat Wawrinka 4-6, 7-5, 7-6. There was no inkling of an injury, when Federer had a post-match press conference at close to 1 AM after the match and the tennis world looked forward to a grand finale with ATP’s two top players fighting it out for the title. In an effort, worthy of his tennis class, Federer put himself in line for the record seventh title, while for Djokovic was in with a chance to make it three-in-a-row. As it turned out, the dream came true for Djokovic but not in a way that the Serb would really have wanted it. All those, who eagerly waited for the best tennis match of the 2014 season; were left with no choice after it became known that the result of the final had to be a walk-over.
Earlier on Saturday, in the semifinal against compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka, it was difficult to see how the injury troubled Federer. True, the big Swiss was stretched to three sets by Wawrinka but the injury could not have been a factor to the great semifinal match. Instead, it was Wawrinka’s powerful tennis that took the match to three sets and pushed Federer on the verge of defeat. But Federer recovered, showed his class in coming back from the brink and saved four match points before winning in 2 hours and 48 minutes.
The announcement became public as Federer personally appeared on court in tracksuit during the post-match ceremony and trophy award after the doubles match. The crowd had gathered to watch the Federer-Djokovic duel in less than an hour’s time. The highly anticipated showdown was seen as part of a historic duel between two of world’s greatest players and the stadium was slowly filling in. America’s famous Bryan brothers had just won the doubles crown to mark their fourth season finale title and they waited for organizers to clear the court arena for the prize distribution ceremony. Once everything was done, Roger Federer appeared out-of-nowhere waving the crowd. It has become customary in major world venues that Federer derives automatic support. O2 was no different except that it was a bit puzzling why a mike was being handed to great Swiss. Just as the chants of; “we love you Roger” reverberated in the O2 Arena, Federer began speaking. It seemed strange but the crowd heard with rapt attention. He began by referring to his tracksuit and said he was sorry not to be seen in his match-kit instead. Then he broke the news, when he added that he would not be playing the final tonight. Federer’s own words to the public were; “Unfortunately I’m not match fit to play because of the back injury and clearly I wish it wasn’t this way. You try all year to be ready for the ATP World Tour Finals and I didn’t want to end this way. I tried everything I could last night and today – painkillers, rest – until the very end but I can’t compete at this level with Novak. In a final like this and at my age it would be too risky. I hope you understand.”
With the news sinking in, fans’ amazement transformed into a universal sympathy for the world’s most popular tennis player, who had lost almost the entire 2013 because of the same problem. But Federer has never been known for pulling out of a final match. In a career spanning over 16 years and more than 1200 matches, it was the first time that he retired during the tournament.
The tournament director Chris Kermode told fans that ticket agencies would refund the ticket money by some arrangement pretty soon but Kermode was resourceful in arranging a pro-set of first to eight games between Djokovic and Andy Murray. To some extent, that mollified the pro-Federer crowd at O2. Kermode also arranged a doubles match, featuring Djokovic/John McEnroe against Tim Henman/Pat Cash. For a sell-out crowd to be taking in such disappointing late news may have no precedent in any other sports.