“I need a holiday, badly. I’m wounded, I’m tired, exhausted. I need some time off right now, then we’ll see where we go from here. Nothing’s been decided for the rest of the year, although there is a plan in place. I have to go back to the drawing board, to decide what’s really important, what’s not important and what’s most important.”
Those were the words of Roger Federer after he had helped Switzerland retain their place in the World Group of the Davis Cup on Sunday with a 3-1 win in Holland. Federer won both his singles matches and played the doubles as well, a huge effort after what’s been a long summer and a long year for the world No 1.
Federer has always been first class at sorting out his schedule, rarely over-doing things and always thinking ahead in an effort to be able to peak for the big events. But it is clear that he is exhausted and needs rest, which puts his No 1 ranking seriously at risk. When he says he needs to work out what’s important, in this case, he surely means whether playing enough to stay No 1 at the end of the year is worth the effort.
At the moment, the Swiss holds a healthy lead of 1335 points over Novak Djokovic at the top of the rankings, with Andy Murray a long way back in third. We’ve talked before about how his US Open triumph has given Murray belief he can make it to No 1 and it’s mathematically possible he could do so this year, though he’d realistically need to win everything he plays to do it that soon.
However, the Race – the calendar year rankings which are used to sort out the qualifiers for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in November – is a good indicator of where we really stand at the moment. Djokovic leads Federer by 1000 points, with Murray and Rafael Nadal (who may not play another event this year) 2000 points or so behind him.
As he did last year, Federer seems sure to miss Shanghai, where 1000 points are at stake, as well as the choice of 500s in Beijing and Tokyo. If he stays at home, then both Djokovic and Murray have the chance to earn 1500 points from their two chosen events.
It would take something dramatic to stop Federer defending his title at his home-town event of Basle in late October, but he has to weigh up how much he wants or needs to play in Paris the following week, before the ATP World Tour Finals in London the week after that. It’s more than possible he does not play in Paris so he can go to London with some sort of freshness. It’s a tournament he’s dominated in each of the past two years and with 1500 points to defend, it could decide the year-end ranking.
But what Federer has to remember is that he could conceivably win Basle, Paris and London and still be overtaken by Djokovic, who has very few points to defend from last year. So is it really worth it? Or should he save himself for London and then build up again for next year. At 31, he does not have the luxury of real tennis youth to help him recover as fast these days, so prudence is likely to take over.
Getting back to No 1 and winning a seventh Wimbledon title were phenomenal achievements. Now it’s all about priorities.