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TENNIS

Wawrinka joins Federer on Rio sidelines

World number four Stan Wawrinka withdrew from the Olympics with a back injury on Tuesday, dealing another blow to the tennis tournament which has been hit by high-profile pull-outs.

Wawrinka joins Federer on Rio sidelines
Stan Wawrinka is the third high-profile Swiss player to drop out of Rio. File photo: AFP
The 31-year-old is the third Swiss player to withdraw after Roger Federer and Belinda Bencic who was also scratched from the competition through injury.
   
“I am very sad,” said Wawrinka, the former French and Australian Open champion.
   
“Going to Rio was close to my heart. After Beijing (2008) and London (2012), I wanted to live these Games in Brazil.
   
“Sadly, it's not possible. I wish good luck to all the Swiss athletes who will go to Rio and I will support them from distance.”
   
Wawrinka aggravated his back injury in Toronto last week where he reached the semifinals.
   
He won the Olympic doubles gold medal with Federer at the 2008 Games but lost in the first round of the singles in London to eventual champion Andy Murray.
   
Big-serving Australian Sam Groth was lined up to replace Wawrinka in the draw.
   
“Late call-up to join the @AUSOlympicTeam in Rio. Couldn't be more pumped,” Groth tweeted.
   
World number three Federer opted out of the Games last week and shut down his 2016 season to rest a knee injury.
   
One day later, teenager Bencic, the world number 19, withdrew with a wrist injury.
   
The tennis, which starts on Saturday, has been hit by a number of pull-outs over injury, fears of the Zika virus or scheduling complaints.
   
Milos Raonic, Tomas Berdych, Dominic Thiem, Richard Gasquet, John Isner, Feliciano Lopez and Nick Kyrgios are not playing.
   
The women's singles are stripped of Simona Halep, Victoria Azarenka, who is pregnant, Bencic and Karolina Pliskova.
   
Maria Sharapova, silver medallist behind Serena Williams in 2012, is serving a two-year doping ban.
   
The men's doubles was also tainted when defending champions Bob and Mike Bryan opted out, insisting “our family's health is now our top priority”.

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ROGER FEDERER

Is this the end of the road for Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer?

Roger Federer is talking optimistically about returning to his "highest level" after knee surgery, but does tennis have to start adjusting to a future without the Swiss star?

Is this the end of the road for Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer?
Is it the end of the line for Roger? Photo: Martin BUREAU / AFP

The 20-time Grand Slam winner announced on Wednesday that he would be sidelined until 2021 after his second operation in a matter of months.

Federer remains upbeat, tweeting: “I plan to take the necessary time to be 100 percent ready to play at my highest level.”

In some ways 2020 is a good season to miss after the coronavirus ravaged the tennis schedule. Writing Federer off in the past has proved dangerous.

He returned from a six-month injury lay-off to claim the Australian Open in 2017, winning his eighth Wimbledon crown later that year.

But he will be 40 in 2021 and is now heading into uncharted territory.

Despite his groaning trophy cabinet, there are two factors that will motivate Federer to keep going — the risk of losing his grip on the men's Grand Slam title record and a missing Olympics singles gold medal.

Rafael Nadal has 19 majors, just one shy of Federer's mark and Djokovic has 17.

Spain's Nadal will be fancied to draw level with Federer at the French Open, rescheduled for September, while few would bet against Djokovic winning in New York weeks earlier.

In April, Federer said he was “devastated” when Wimbledon was cancelled for the first time since World War II. Last year he fell agonisingly short at the All England Club, failing to convert two championship points on his own serve against Djokovic.

The Wimbledon grass probably remains his best chance of adding to his Grand Slam collection — he has not won the US Open since 2008 and his only title at Roland Garros came in 2009.

Even though Federer has slipped from the very pinnacle of the game, he is still a major threat to Nadal and Djokovic.

'Golden' ambitions

Last year, the world number four had a 53-10 win-loss record and he reached the semi-finals at the Australian Open in January in his only tournament this year.

Federer, who is still six ATP titles short of Jimmy Connors' all-time record of 109, has one glaring omission from his CV — the Olympic title.

The Swiss won doubles gold in Beijing in 2008 with compatriot Stan Wawrinka but lost in the singles final to Andy Murray in London four years later.

The postponed Tokyo Games will almost certainly be Federer's last opportunity to complete a career “golden” Grand Slam — he will turn 40 on the day of the closing ceremony next year.

Tennis will feel the loss of the elegant Federer keenly when he walks off the court for the last time.

Djokovic and Nadal have been the dominant forces in recent years but the Swiss remains the biggest draw and last month topped Forbes' list of the world's highest-earning athletes.

His last appearance on court was in front of nearly 52,000 fans — touted by organisers as a world record for tennis — at a charity match against Nadal in Cape Town in February.

Federer is nearly always the crowd favourite wherever he plays and has proved a perfect ambassador for the sport since he won his first Grand Slam title in 2003.

He certainly expects to be back and competitive next year.

“I will be missing my fans and the tour dearly but I will look forward to seeing everyone back on tour at the start of the 2021 season,” he tweeted.

The avalanche of support from his adoring fans showed they would miss him too, but they will have to get used to a time when he is gone for good.

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