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Tennis superstar Roger Federer will end his career without an Olympic gold medal and seems unlikely to add to his 17 Grand Slam singles titles after announcing that he will not play again this year while he recovers from knee surgery.
The announcement comes a fortnight before the Swiss legend's 35th birthday and has been presented as a decision that will allow Federer to continue his stellar career for several more years.
"I have made the very difficult decision to call an end to my 2016 season as I need more extensive rehabilitation following my knee surgery this year," he wrote on Facebook. "The doctors advised that if I want to play on the ATP World Tour injury free for another few years, as I intend to do, I must give both my knee and body the proper time to fully recover."
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But could it be the beginning of the end? There have been signs that age is catching up with the "Greatest Of All Time". The surgery on his knee is the first Federer has undergone in what has been a remarkably injury free career. But it was followed by a back problem that kept him out of the French Open, the first Grand Slam he has missed since 1999. Now he is set to miss the US Open as well.
"The enforced break until next January at the earliest will see Federer’s ranking plummet from its current position of three to outside the top ten and possibly even outside the top 20 depending on when he returns," says the Daily Telegraph. "Federer's absence from the US Open, where he was a beaten finalist last year, makes the prospect of an 18th slam title look increasingly unlikely, and the injury robs the Swiss player of the chance to compete in Rio for an Olympic singles gold medal – the one major honour to have eluded him in his illustrious career."
But Federer will return, says Greg Garber of ESPN, even though he may never reclaim his place at the top of the tennis tree.
"If you are a genuine fan of Roger Federer, you should vigorously applaud his decision to bail on the rest of the 2016 tennis season," he writes. "It likely means a few more years of the less-than-vintage-but-still-stylish Federer we have come to know in recent years – which isn't half-bad. In fact, it's still better than good."
It is telling that in his Facebook statement, Federer says he is looking forward to returning to play "attacking tennis" in 2017, adds Garber. "Deep in his mind, he has to know another Grand Slam title is increasingly unlikely. Still, he enjoys being in the hunt, maybe more importantly, in the conversation. Clearly, it's fun, and there are still millions more dollars to make. With four children, that's not a minor consideration."
But not everyone believes he will remain a force. Another ESPN writer, Howard Bryant, counsels the Swiss not to hang on too long. "Those who watch Federer struggle and want him to quit do so generally out of love," he says. "They get squeamish watching the master yield to time, the one enemy that remains undefeated.
And the stats suggest he is a fading force. "He will end the year with a 21-7 record from just seven tournaments, and no titles for the first time since he was a teenager – and first-time Olympian – in 2000," says Linda Pearce of the Sydney Morning Herald. "Indeed, the sun appears to be setting a little more quickly than a fine 2015 – in which he was the only player to beat Novak Djokovic twice – had suggested."
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