Roger Federer: Was Withdrawing From Roland Garros an Unethical Decision?

Roger Federer walks off court at the French Open.

After playing a three and half hour match against Dominick Koepfer in a late night match on Philip Charier, Roger Federer concerned fans in his post-match press conference when he told reporters  he wasn’t sure about his next match. He mentioned that he’d see how he felt and then decide if he would play Mateo Berrettini. Few expected Federer to withdraw from the tournament while he was playing so well and having such a good run. The following day, the entire tennis world received shocking news. Federer announced  his withdrawal from the French Open in order to avoid overstraining his knee in preparation for Wimbledon. 

“After two knee surgeries and over a year of rehabilitation it’s important that I listen to my body and make sure I don’t push myself too quickly on my road to recovery,” Federer said. “I am thrilled to have gotten 3 matches under my belt. There is no greater feeling than being back on court.”

This decision sparked a lot of debate; many fans and analysts disagreed, claiming that using a grand slam for practice and preparation was improper. “You’re not at a candy store, able to pick and choose which matches you play, as your actions affect others, and the tournament.” said Paul McNamee, the former Australian Open tournament director. 

Federer’s decision, according to the majority of fans and analysts, was unethical and didn’t set a good example for the rest of the tour and players. Federer made a strategic decision to not overextend his physical capabilities and to move on, as he was confident that he wouldn’t have a chance to win in Paris. That mindset alarmed everybody, as fans are not accustomed to hearing the 20-time grand slam champion speak in such a manner. Federer’s withdrawal and pre-tournament mindset was more likely pre-determined by him and his team. He must not have predicted his progress into the second week of the tournament, but if he did Federer must have decided to withdraw.

Logic and Reasoning Behind The Decision

The logic and reasoning behind his decision makes sense as he doesn’t want overstress his knees after two surgeries and fourteen months off the tour. The scheduling didn’t help either, playing in the second week wouldn’t leave him any time for rest or play in Halle which is his next tournament.

The French Open was the first grand slam he’d played since the 2020 Australian Open where he lost in the semifinals against Novak Djokovic in straight sets. It was one the most dramatic majors for Federer, saving seven match points against Tennys Sandgren  in the quarterfinals. Federer has already arrived in Halle eyeing at his main focus: Wimbledon which is probably his only and last chance at winning a grand slam. Many tennis commentators expressed their displeasure, claiming that Federer should be fined at the very least.

Many drew parallels with Naomi Osaka’s situation at the the French Open, after the Japanese clashed with officials by refusing to do any press due to mental health issues, resulting in her withdrawal and a $15,000 fine. That in itself sparked debate, but after Federer’s withdrawal, it began to instil a sense of favoritism. In a press statement, tournament director Guy Forget stated that he was okay with Federer’s decision.

“The Roland Garros tournament is sorry about the withdrawal of Roger Federer, who put up an incredible fight last night,” tournament director Guy Forget said in a statement. “We were all delighted to see Roger back in Paris, where he played three high-level matches. We wish him all the best for the rest of the season.”

Conclusion and Thoughts

Sadly, this debate has blown out of proportion, dividing the tennis world into two camps: those who support Federer’s decision and those who oppose it. It may appear that Federer’s decision was unethical, and that a penalty should have been imposed to demonstrate equality, but Federer is nearing the end of his career and wants to give it his all to win one more major before retiring. A tactical approach is necessary, but not at the expense of a tournament’s integrity. Instead of Roland Garros, a possible solution would have been to play in Parma or Belgrade, or to play the following match against Berrettini and go with the flow.

Unfortunately, there is almost never a right or wrong answer in such controversies; as fans, we can only speculate on what might have been. It would be better if we all moved on to the next page. It’s clear that Federer’s career is coming to an end; rather than criticizing him, let’s enjoy and cherish the matches and time he has left on the tour. We’ll probably come to regret it if we don’t. Federer has had a near-perfect 25-year career in every way. It’s preferable if we don’t use this to stir up more controversy in the sport.

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