Dubai: There was hardly an element of surprise in the formal announcement of the cancellation of Wimbledon on Wednesday - it was very much in sync with the decisions taken by all major sports governing bodies of the world for the at least for first half of the year.
What does then, the first-ever calling off of the grand slam event in peace time mean for tennis? It surely means the legends of the game now get three grand slams during the year (hopefully, with the Australian Open already played and the French Open shoehorned after US Open in September) to pursue their individual landmarks - and nobody will be ruing it more than Roger Federer.
''Devastated,'' came a cryptic tweet from the Swiss master on Wednesday, who had been planning a comeback on his favourite surface for a possible shot at a ninth Wimbledon title. After all the joy he had given to the legion of his fans and with those 20 slams tucked under his belt, Federer should have no regrets if he fails to add one more to his kitty of Wimbledon trophies - but the grim global scenario, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, now means that he is deprived from having a shot at it.
There is always a next time, one may argue, and Federer fans will not forget that he was ready to wait for five years and battled inconsistent form to add the 18th slam to his haul of trophies. But that was then, for let’s remember that the master entertainer will turn 39 this August and the calling off of the tournament may have just robbed him of a possible last shot at the SW19.
The way men’s tennis has panned out from the start of this millennium, each of the Big Three - Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic has established a sense of belonging with particular slams. If it’s Wimbledon for the Swiss great, no prizes for guessing it’s the French Open for Nadal (12 titles) while Djokovic showed equal felicity on the hard courts of Australian Open with record eight titles.
Federer, on his part, had not put a date to his retirement plans at the beginning of the year and had outlined plans to play his last Olympics in Tokyo, now postponed by a year. However, an arthoscopic durgery on the right knee saw him pulling out at the eleventh hour from the Dubai Duty Free Championships, Indian Wells and French Open. Federer may finally be able to make it to Paris if French Open takes place as of now in September - but it will be extremely demanding for him to play two grand slam events at the gap of a week.
Come next year, Nadal will be 35 and Djokovic will be youngest of the three at 33 years (former world No.1 Andy Murray is no more in the equation) and it will be really a surprise if Federer wants to push himself for another season. In several of his recent interviews, Federer made it clear that he is now there for the joy of it - as well as the satisfaction of being able to compete with the other modern greats.
However, when commenting on the pullout of Federer in February, Djokovic summed up the absence of one of his greatest foes poignantly: ‘‘Roger is Roger - this sport needs him.’’
It will now depend on how the rest of the year goes for Federer to make up his mind for 2021.