The Centre Court crowd, buzzing with casual conversation during a changeover, suddenly went silent when the chair umpire uttered words rarely heard at Wimbledon, or anywhere else.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “Mr. Federer is taking an off-the-court medical timeout.”
Roger Federer has seldom been slowed by health issues, but he briefly left the court on Monday because of a back injury and had spectators wondering whether he would return.
After an eight-minute delay, Federer resumed whacking winners and went on to beat Xavier Malisse 7-6 (1), 6-1, 4-6, 6-3. Federer reached his 33rd consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal, extending his Open era record.
“We know what to expect, both of us,” Federer said. “I hope to recover and play a good match against him.”
Federer’s back began bothering him early in his fourth round match. He blamed the cool, windy weather and the lingering effects of an arduous five-set win over Julien Benneteau three days earlier.
Federer’s serve lacked its usual velocity, but his play seemed otherwise unaffected by the bothersome back. An hour after the victory, he said he already felt much better.
“Honestly I’m not too worried,” he said. “I’ve had bad backs over the years. They go as quick as they came. But of course I have to keep an eye on it now. Two good nights’ sleeps and I’ll be 100 per cent on Wednesday. I’m pretty convinced, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to pull out the match the way I did today.”
While Federer has undoubtedly felt a back twinge or other discomfort on occasion, he has also played in 51 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments, a testament to his durability. It’s unusual to see him require attention from a trainer, but that was the case midway through the first set.
“I felt the back going the beginning of the first set,” Federer said. “I asked for the trainer to come out to just talk about it. I decided to have treatment inside.”
Federer returned to cheers and gave Malisse a wave of apology for the delay. He then eased any concern about his condition by playing a succession of spectacular points to win the set.
With Malisse serving at 6-5, Federer rocketed a backhand, then sprinted forward to scoop a delicate forehand cross-court for a winner. He hit a backhand winner to reach break point, and put away a deft backhand volley to break for 6-all.
From 1-1 in the ensuing tiebreaker, Federer took the set by sweeping six consecutive points, the last a drop shot for a winner as Malisse slipped behind the baseline and went sprawling.
The Belgian was down but not out. He took the third set and led 2-love in the fourth set before Federer began another surge, sweeping the next five games.
In the final game, Federer hit consecutive service winners, and on match point he whacked an ace at 122 mph, matching his fastest of the day. He shared a warm handshake at the net with Malisse.