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How does Tokyo 2020 postponement affect Roger Federer chances of winning elusive singles’ gold medal?

leyeaduloju in Features 28 Mar 2020
Roger Federer at the 2012 Olympics in London (PA Sport)

Roger Federer has made no secret of his wish to win a singles gold medal at the Olmypic games, but that quest will have to wait until 2021  following the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Games.

The International Olympics Committee announced during the week that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, originally scheduled to begin on 24 July, has been shifted to 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic currently ripping apart the sporting calendar.

The IOC did not specify the new dates, with the Olympics body stating that the Games will be staged not later than the summer of 2021.

How does this postponement affect Federer’s chances of winning that elusive gold medal?

The first thing to note is that the great Swiss will obviously be older, and would have accumulated a lot more tennis in his body, by the time the Games come around next year.

In terms of his quest for Olympic gold, 2020 was actually shaping up very nicely for Federer. The 38-year-old underwent knee surgery in February and was not due to return to the tour until the grass court season in June, just under two months before the Tokyo 2020 Games were initially scheduled to start. This would have been a near perfect scenario for Federer.

If the season hadn’t been suspended, and the Games had not been postponed, Federer would be resting while his rivals exert themselves at Indian Wells and Miami in March, and on the grueling European clay in April and May. He would then return to the tour fresher than most in June, gain some form and fitness on his favourite and most natural surface, before launching another attempt at winning an Olympic gold medal in Tokyo.

Unfortunately, the season was paused due to the coronavirus outbreak, which has somewhat evened the playing field. No one knows what will happen in the lead up to the Olympic Games when they eventually hold in 2021- form, fitness, injuries will surely play some part- but an Olympic Games in 2020 would have certainly given Federer a fantastic chance of securing that missing piece of silverware.

Like we saw in 2017, when a re-energized Federer won the Australian Open after not playing for six months, a small injury break might not necessarily be a bad thing for the Swiss, especially at this stage of his career!

Because they are held once every four years, the Olympic Games are extremely difficult to win. There have been just eight editions since tennis returned as a full medal sport in Seoul in 1988, with Andy Murray, champion in 2012 and 2016, being the only man to win multiple singles gold medals. The general feeling is that the Tokyo Games will be Federer’s last chance at claiming Olympics singles success. He will be 40 next August- surely, not even the mighty Swiss can win an Olympic Gold medal at 43 or 44?

Federer isn’t the only active great still seeking an Olympic singles title. World No. 1, Novak Djokovic is also yet to strike singles gold, with his best effort being a bronze medal finish in Beijing in 2008. Given the blistering start he’s made to the 2020 season, and his excellent record in Asia, Djokovic would have been favourite to win the title in Tokyo, but like everyone else, he must now play the waiting game before getting his next chance to aim for gold.

The great news for Djokovic is that he’s still operating at peak level, and there’s very little to suggest that he would have dropped off significantly when the Olympics eventually come around in 2021, even though he turns 34 next May.

With Federer, Djokovic and Nadal so close in the race for most Grand Slam titles, an Olympic gold medal may prove to be a crucial card in GOAT debates of the future! For now, 2008 champion, Nadal has the edge on his Big 3 rivals.

Federer has been to four previous Olympics, winning doubles gold with Stan Wawrinka in Beijing in 2008, but he’s always stumbled in his pursuit of singles triumph. The great Swiss was fourth in his debut appearance in Sydney in 2000, losing to Tommy Haas in the semi-finals, and to Frenchman, Arnaud Di Pasquale in the bronze medal match. He suffered a second round defeat to Tomas Berdych in the Athens Games in 2004, while he fell to James Blake in the quarter finals in 2008.

Federer won doubles gold with Stan Wawrinka in 2008 (PA Sport)

Federer seemed destined to finally win that elusive gold medal in 2012, with the tennis event staged at his beloved Wimbledon, but he came unstuck in the final, losing 6-2 6-1 6-4 to Andy Murray. The 20-time major winner was the heavy favourite going into that final, and had beaten Murray in the championship match at Wimbledon just under a month earlier, but he was comprehensively beaten in the Olympic final.

He missed the 2016 tournament in Rio due to a knee injury.

Had the 2020 season progressed normally, without the suspensions and postponements, Federer would have had a great shot at finally striking Olympic gold, but with every passing year, that possibility becomes even more uncertain.