It appears more and more obvious that Roger Federer's troublesome back was at least a partial explanation for his late-match fade in the U.S. Open final against Juan Martin del Potro.
On Friday, after playing and winning two singles matches in Davis Cup in Italy last weekend, just four days after the US Open final, he announced he is withdrawing from planned appearances at ATP events Tokyo and Shanghai early next month.
"I am disappointed that I have to withdraw from Tokyo and Shanghai as they are two of my favourite cities in the world and the fans have been great to me over the years," Federer explained on his official website. "After consultation with my team and doctors, I decided to take the difficult decision to withdraw from both tournaments so that I can give my body a chance to rest, rehabilitate and fully recover from a physically challenging year."
In his media conference right after losing 3-6, 7-6(5), 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-2 to del Potro at Flushing Meadows, he said, "I've had a wonderful season in terms of Grand Slams (two titles and two losses in finals). Next to that, I also got back to No. 1 in the world. I hope I can defend that until the end of the year and then hopefully win the (ATP) World Tour Final in London (November 21-29). Along the way I hope I can get some other titles like my home tournament in Basel (November 2-8)."
It is interesting that he mentioned Basel, when there are larger prize money events in the fall at the Masters Series tournaments in Shanghai and Paris. He probably knew then that there was an extended period of rest and rehab in his near future.
In Davis Cup in Genoa last weekend on clay, after he won his opening singles against Simone Bolelli and his compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka defeated Andreas Seppi, it would have been expected that he and Wawrinka (gold medallists at the Beijing Olympics) would have gone for the 3-0 kill in the doubles on the second day. But Federer sat out, watched Wawrinka and Marco Chiudinelli lose and then came back and clinched the 3-1 victory with a win over Potito Starace on the Sunday.
Possibly his back was bad after the opening-day singles and he needed a day's rest before he could play again.
A report in the Tribune de Genève right after the U.S. Open final mentioned that Federer had a "stiff back" as an explanation for why he said he had not felt comfortable during the whole match.
Federer had a back problem after the Australian Open at the beginning of 2009, an event marked by his substandard play in the losing the fifth set of the final 6-2 to Rafael Nadal and his subsequent tearful loss of composure during the presentation ceremonies.
He then withdrew from the hard court tournament in Dubai before playing the hard court events in Indian Wells, Calif., (losing to Andy Murray) and Miami (losing to Novak Djokovic). The latter match was marked by him uncharacteristically smashing a racquet in anger on the court and then saying he was happy to be getting off the hard courts with the clay-court season about to begin.
He has said that his back got better and he finally had free movement starting at the Italian Open in May, and that showed as he won the next event on clay in Madrid, and then the French Open and Wimbledon.
Now, after four out of five weeks on hard-court at events in Montreal (quarter-finals), Cincinnati (a victory) and at the US Open (final), it appears as if the back is again a concern.
Certainly the stats from the US Open final indicate Federer's serving might well have been affected by the back. His first serve percentage was a meagre 50 per cent. That compares with the 64 per cent, a good but not great percentage, he had during in his five-set victory over Andy Roddick in the Wimbledon final.
Doing commentary of the final for CBS, John McEnroe mentioned during the fifth set how Federer seemed to be having trouble getting his ball toss high enough on the serve - maybe now we know the reason why.