federer plagued by mono

Posted on March 8, 2008

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Die-hard Roger Federer fans increasingly worried about why the Swiss tennis god has lately seemed more mortal and vulnerable should rest a little easier with this disclosure — his health was dogged by mononucleosis for the past few months.

An infection usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), mononucleosis can often be misdiagnosed as the flu or strep throat. Sufferers usually have a fever, a sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, and unexplained constant fatigue or weakness. Those with the disease are often advised against physical activities for at least a month, while the feelings of fatigue or weakness could last for months, and complications such as the enlargement and rupture of the spleen could develop, according to the Mayo Clinic.

But for a top-class athlete, the biggest problem is the lay-off that is sometimes mandatory for a mononucleosis sufferer. The New York Times cites Mario Ancic, a former top-10 player from Croatia, as a prominent mononucleosis sufferer who was forced to miss six months of the 2007 season, including Wimbledon.

Luckily for Federer, he was only ordered to rest for about two weeks after being diagnosed, but he worried that fitness and playing competitive matches were sacrificed due to the disease, he said in a letter to fans on his website.

Federer’s health problems this year had not been confined to mononucleosis. Just before the Australian Open in January, he was struck by food poisoning.

These perhaps combined to cause a lackluster showing so far this year, his defeat at the hands of eventual Australian Open winner Novak Djokovic during the semi-finals and a first round upset by Andy Murray at the Dubai championships earlier this week.

Those losses had ignited debate about whether Federer’s best days have already passed him by. Many have been quick to say the new batch of hungry and ambitious younger challenges are catching up to him and his hold on the number one ranking in tennis would slip from him by the end of this year.

Of course, Federer has also been a victim of his own staggering successes. He has won 12 Grand Slam titles, just two short of the all time record held by his idol, Pete Sampras. Federer has been the undisputed top male tennis player for four years in a row, making him the player with the longest consecutive streak at the top. So every time Federer does not win a tournament — besides his kryptonite, the French Open — it becomes big news and a new round of supposition about his reign is sparked off.

“For me, it was only a matter of time before the younger guys were going to come up,” he told the New York Times. “Now that they’re here, they’re good and everything, but I’m still No. 1 in the world. I think it would be very premature, almost a little bit rude toward me because of everything I’ve already done over the last few years. I think it’s not fair if you just say, ‘The guy has lost two matches, played two tournaments and didn’t win both, and it’s over for him.’ ”

This new piece of information about the state of Federer’s health could dampen the speculation a little. But it will still be a challenging year ahead for Federer. Younger players are indeed keen to dislodge him from his lofty heights and more are believing that Federer has lost his dominance of the sport and is beatable. Federer will have to recover quickly and get back to the best form to fend them off and silence his detractors.

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