Roger Federer is no stranger to the biggest stage. But compared to many of his colleagues, he doesn’t put up with as much vitriolic hatred. The aging tennis sensation is one of the richest athletes in the world and the two-decade face of men’s tennis alongside rivals Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. When Federer backed out of the 2021 French Open, however, many saw a double standard as covered by the tennis press.
Roger Federer backs out
Federer already had several knee surgeries in 2020 and made it three rounds deep before withdrawing due to health concerns. At 39 years old, Federer’s days are already numbered on the court. Any further setbacks could push him closer to retirement. As such, when he started feeling pain following the early rounds, he knew he had to make a tough decision.
“It’s important that I listen to my body and make sure I don’t push myself too quickly on my road to recovery,” he said according to Insider. “I am thrilled to have gotten three matches under my belt.”
Pundits like Patrick McEnroe questioned Federer. But many understood that Federer’s decision could not have been easy; they took it easy on the tennis legend. Coming off of a situation where Osaka caused days worth of discourse with her own withdrawal — plus the sport’s history of judging Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic for everything they do — some want to know why Federer got the benefit of the doubt.
Tennis pundits chime in
Catherine Whitaker has long noticed the double standard when it comes to Tennis. However, the 2021 French Open has opened a can of worms that made the chatter even louder. Commentator Catherine Whitaker told The Tennis Podcast:
“There is an argument that he’s completely earned special consideration. But on the other hand, I can’t help but feel uncomfortable with it and uncomfortable with what it does for the integrity of the sport and the Grand Slam events … While [Federer] has absolutely earned some special consideration, I also think he gets leeway, too much leeway sometimes.”
Noting the near-evangelical way that Federer gets treated by the media, Whitaker wants to know why some players’ love of the game gets questioned while others get the benefit of the doubt. After all, this is the same tournament where Naomi Osaka was put under a microscope for avoiding media availability and dropped out of the tournament to the scorn of fans and media members around the world.
A strange open for Federer
The 2021 French Open was already a strange spectacle beyond tennis due to Naomi Osaka’s holdout and eventual departure. Suddenly, the conversation shifted from the tennis court to mental health, what the athletes owe the fans and media, and who gets to remain silent versus who gets to speak. It only got crazier from there on the court.
Insider noted that with Osaka withdrawing early and Federer soon to follow, things only got stranger when the already shorthanded women’s bracket got to the final without every single member of the top 16. After Stefanos Tsitsipas fell to Novak Djokovic and dark-horse Barbora Krejcikova beat fellow dark-horse Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the 2021 French Open was an unprecedented comedy of events.
The biggest takeaway may have nothing to do with the tennis itself, but the burdens that we put on athletes who do or do not play at the will of the fans. Everyone has something to think about when they discuss these athletes and their decisions.