Roger Federer has now won 19 Grand Slam singles titles, more than any other men’s singles player in history. From Agassi to the current ‘Big Four’ he has dominated tennis in an era when there has been an abundance of talent that has never before been seen simultaneously. In the process, he has won a record eight Wimbledon titles (including five in a row), a record five consecutive US Open titles as well as five Australian Open titles and a French Open for good measure. He reached a record ten Grand Slam finals in a row from 2005 to 2007. Record. Record. Record.

He is considered by most, including myself, to be the greatest male tennis player of all time and by some as the greatest athlete of all time. Jimmy Connors, himself considered by some as the greatest player in the history of the tennis, once said: “in an era of specialists, you’re either a clay court specialist, a grass court specialist, a hard court specialist or you’re Roger Federer.”

All of this is quite obviously spectacular. However, it is his ability to listen to his body, his injury management routines and most recently his return from a complete 6-month break to win another two Grand Slams which is so impressive to me. Not only has he now conquered the lean spell from 2012 – 2016 that coincided with the ascendancy of Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray he has also overcome arthroscopic surgery on a torn meniscus. To overcome all of these obstacles at the age of 35, when many speculated that his reign may have well and truly come to an end, and then go on and become Wimbledon’s record winner shows the real measure of this man’s character and determination.

“The goal was to be fully fit for December, not to hurry in the beginning. I went on vacation for two weeks and the last few weeks have been crucial to see how much load I can put on my legs. The good thing about the lay-off is I realised I just had to rest. Just before the US Open, I had a bit of a reaction, so it was too early. Then it was a great feeling to get on the court because I was spending a lot of time in the gym. It’s always refreshing to get back on the court. In previous years I tried to pack in too much but also it’s important to be around family and kids at Christmas.”

Where to start?

From a physiotherapy point of view, there is so much to recognise in these few words. He set an achievable but more importantly a specific target. Like putting ‘Eyre Square’ into your Google Maps instead of ‘Galway’ the more specific/focused you are with your goal, the more likely you are to achieve your target. He was patient and realised a gradual return to his goal was critical. Maybe he saw these major wins on the horizon, maybe he didn’t. Either way, he saw the bigger picture of returning to compete at his best.

He spent time with his family, another facet of his personality he is famous for and relaxed but I would guess he certainly stuck to his home exercise programme! The key thing here is he rested from vigorous or symptom aggravating activity. The role of acute rest is often underestimated but is certainly vital. Initial rest allows the body to come out of the inflammatory, high tone, fight or flight mode. The nervous system relaxes, you can work on movement, return the muscles to a more optimal length-tension relationship and mobilize joints and get them moving well. He took the time to rest for 6 months and trusted his body that even at 35 and against these huge talent athletes he could return to the same elite level and even possibly win. Amazing.

I had experience with this type of scenario myself last year and stubbornly went against what my body was telling me and pushed it to its limits and as a result, paid for it. I learned my lesson but thankfully the team didn’t have to and we reached our goal and will be challenging in the Premier Division next year!

Finally, Federer discusses seeing how much load he can put through his legs. You gradually expose the knee to rehabilitation as well as sport specific exercises, specifically progressively mimicking tennis in the gym. If the knee handles the load you progress. If it doesn’t and reacts, as it did, you pull it back a step and go again until you’re back at your goal with no issues. Simple! Finally, Federer gets back on the court. Any of you who play a sport or those of you with different goals such as simply walking with no symptoms know there is no feeling like returning to the field, court, pool, track or gym and not getting a setback. Federer did it and won two Grand Slams!

Even the knowledgeable, even if recently idiotic, John McEnroe has concluded that “Federer (has) cemented himself as the greatest player of all time”. If this type of treatment is good enough for him, it’s good enough for me and my clients!

Contact us to see how we can help you in any way to maintain a healthy mind and a healthy body.

Thank you, Colin.

Galway Physiotherapy & Wellness Centre