Originally Posted by Roger 'not so fast' Federer
Remember when I lost a couple of months ago? It was mono. Yeah.
Roger Federer’s intriguing season continues Monday with a singles match in New York that will not count in the rankings but has still managed to sell out 19,000 seats in Madison Square Garden.
Federer’s latest exhibition duel with Pete Sampras is just that: an exhibition. But it comes at a particularly sensitive stage of Federer’s brilliant career. He has played only two tournaments in 2008 and lost twice to 20-year-olds, with Novak Djokovic manhandling him in the semifinals of the Australian Open and Andy Murray upsetting him in the first round in Dubai after Federer took a five-week break from competition.
Crisis? Perhaps, but, as it turns out, Federer, who is 26, has not been practicing full disclosure.
Last month, after falling ill for the third time in six weeks, he had extensive tests in his native Switzerland and in Dubai, where he lives part time. According to Federer, the conclusion was that he had contracted mononucleosis.
Federer had already said he experienced food poisoning before the Australian Open, which he said disrupted his preparation for that tournament, eventually won by Djokovic. But Federer, who complained of feeling sluggish during the Open, said it appeared that the mononucleosis was the more serious issue.
“The doctors said I must have had it for at least six weeks, which went all the way back to December,” Federer said in a telephone interview from Dubai, explaining that he had now been medically cleared to compete.
Mononucleosis is an infection usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. It can produce flulike symptoms and extreme, lingering fatigue. Physicians often discourage those with mononucleosis from taking part in intense physical activity because of the risk of rupturing the spleen, which can become enlarged because of the infection.
“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 said.
Federer was also aware that mononucleosis forced Mario Ancic, a former top-10 player from Croatia, to miss six months of the 2007 season, including Wimbledon.
“There was a soccer player in my home club in Switzerland who was out for two years,” Federer said. “You hear two years, and you hear six months. So I was like, oh my God.”
Federer said he was unable to practice for about 10 days in February and received medical clearance to begin training five days before the tournament in Dubai began March 3.
“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.”
Federer said he had a fever in December before traveling to Australia but sought no medical treatment. After his health problems in Australia, he took a long-planned two-week break from tennis, which included attending the Super Bowl. But he said he soon fell ill with flulike symptoms again and returned to Switzerland for tests.
“I had felt great the day before and then awful the next day,” he said. “And this is really when I said: O.K., something is wrong. I have to totally check things out here.”
Even in perfect health, Federer was entering what appeared to be the most challenging season of his career. His struggles have come amid the emergence of Djokovic and with an overstuffed calendar that includes the Olympic tournament in Beijing. He is still on a quest to win his first French Open, the only Grand Slam singles title he lacks, and he will be attempting to break his tie in the record books with Bjorn Borg by winning a sixth straight Wimbledon title.
Now, 2008 looks even more challenging, and it should be fine theater to see how a champion accustomed to winning big titles without much adversity will react.
“I finally have the green light and finally I can give 100 percent in practice again, because it wasn’t fun sort of being there sort of halfway,” he said. “I didn’t enjoy that too much. But again, it was interesting, and you’ve got to go through those moments, as well. I know that. Through a career, a long career maybe as No. 1, you have to go through injuries and sicknesses.”
Federer had largely been spared major health concerns and has played in 33 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments, winning 12 of them, two short of Sampras’s career record. He won three of the four major titles in 2006 and did the same in 2007. But despite his stuttering start in 2008, he said it was too early to claim that his era of dominance was ending.
“For me, it was only a matter of time before the younger guys were going to come up,” he said. “Now that they’re here, they’re good and everything, but I’m still No. 1 in the world.”
He said those players were doing well, but added: “I think it would be very premature, almost a little bit rude toward me because of everything I’ve already done over the last few years. I think it’s not fair if you just say, ‘The guy has lost two matches, played two tournaments and didn’t win both, and it’s over for him.’ ”
But Patrick McEnroe, the United States Davis Cup captain, said: “I believe his era of total domination is over. Three young guys go out there really believing they can beat him, and that belief is getting stronger with each loss Fed suffers. Roger can certainly stay No. 1, but the gap has closed significantly.”
Questioned on the value of playing an exhibition, even for a huge payday, at this now-delicate stage of the season, Federer said he had no regrets and hoped it would give him some match practice heading into the Masters Series event next week in Indian Wells, Calif.
Federer agreed to the Madison Square Garden match after he and Sampras became friends while playing three exhibitions in Asia late last year. Sampras, who is 36 and retired, generated some unexpected buzz by winning the third contest on a very quick indoor court.
Federer said he did not mention the mononucleosis until now because he did not want to detract from victories by Djokovic or Murray. But Federer was still criticized in the British news media for being uncharitable in defeat after he commented in Dubai that Murray had not changed his game in the last two years and that he was surprised at how defensively Murray was playing.
Federer, who said he had now learned the English term “sour grapes,” said he was trying only to provide “constructive criticism” and did not mean to imply that he did not respect Murray’s game.
“He beat me after all,” Federer said. “It’s unfortunate, because that’s not what I meant at all.”
He added: “I’ve always thought he was one of the most talented ones of the whole group, even more talented than Djokovic, to be honest. I thought he would do the most first before Djokovic, but Djokovic played really well the last year and started this year unbelievably.”