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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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TENNIS

Will Belinda Bencic be the first Swiss woman to win a Grand Slam in 20 years?

No Swiss woman has won a Grand Slam singles title since Martina Hingis captured the 1999 Australian Open, but Belinda Bencic hopes to end that two-decade drought at the US Open.

Will Belinda Bencic be the first Swiss woman to win a Grand Slam in 20 years?
Bencic, seeded 13th, has battled back from 2017 left wrist surgery. Photo: Mike Stobe / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

And with Swiss legend Roger Federer and his three-time Grand Slam-winning countryman Stan Wawrinka ousted in the men's quarter-finals, Bencic has extra motivation entering Thursday's semi-finals at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“This is not a good thing. I'm not happy about this actually,” Bencic said of the Federer and Wawrinka losses. “I'm kind of surprised, like I think everyone is.

“It would be really nice if the boys could also make it to semi-finals but I'm happy I can kind of do it for them and don't let them down.”

This year's showdown at Flushing Meadows is the 83rd Slam since Hingis won the last of her five major singles titles.

Bencic will face Canadian teen 15th seed Bianca Andreescu, a fellow Slam semi debutante, for the first time Thursday at Arthur Ashe Stadium. She's trying to become the first Canadian singles Grand Slam champion.

“That would be pretty awesome,” said Andreescu. “If it happens, then I think I can pave way for many other athletes, the next generation, not only for Canadian tennis but I think for many people.”

Ukraine's fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina meets Serena Williams, seeking her 24th Slam title to match Margaret Court's all-time record, in the other semi-final.

Bencic, seeded 13th, has battled back from 2017 left wrist surgery and other injuries that slowed her career for most of two seasons, winning her third WTA title in February at Dubai.

“She likes to be very aggressive,” Andreescu said. “She has a very good serve. She moves pretty well, too.”

The is Bencic's deepest Slam run, surpassing her 2014 US Open debut last-eight appearance, but it comes after having had to battle adversity.

“It's there like a dream always. Even when you are playing bad, you want to come back to this feeling. I think that's the motivation enough to keep going,” Bencic said.

“For sure being number one in the world or winning a Grand Slam is always a dream. But I think it's still a long way to that. Of course, I think you can see it there.

“The work and staying in the moment is more important right now. Just taking it step by step.”

Bencic has tried to stay calm on the court but has found that venting her frustrations can help her focus.

“I'm trying to work on my staying emotionally calm in the matches, but I have no trouble focusing after being angry a little bit,” she said.

“I think sometimes I need to get frustrated. I feel like I let it out. I feel a little bit better after. I start to play better I'm more pumped.”

Teen's best yet to come

Andreescu warns she hasn't reached her peak so far at Flushing Meadows.

“I don't think I've played my best tennis,” she said. “I just fought really well with what I had every single day. I think that's the most important thing for me.

“I just try to play every point like it's the last.”

The Canadian hopes to become the fourth first-time Slam champion in five years to win the US Open women's title.

“All of us dream of this moment ever since we're kids, ever since we picked up a racquet,” she said. “I definitely think I've fought really hard to get to this point, so I think I do deserve to be here and hopefully I can go all the way.”
 

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