Roger Federer is not 100 percent healthy. Anyone who watched the 31-year-old tennis star compete in Switzerland this week knows that his persistent back issue is clearly impacting his effectiveness on the court.
Before returning in August for the 2013 U.S. Open, Federer must take some time to focus on his health. If that means missing the Rogers Cup and Western & Southern Open (two events currently on his schedule), then so be it.
It's becoming painfully clear that Federer can't keep pace in standard ATP tournaments without a clean bill of health, much less major championships.
Since winning the Gerry Weber Open in June, FedEx has suffered three consecutive losses to opponents outside of the top 50 in the ATP World Tour rankings. ESPN's SportsCenter confirmed that stat on Thursday on Twitter:
Roger Federer loses to Daniel Brands in Swiss Open 2nd round. It's his 3rd straight tournament exit vs. a player ranked outside top 50.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 25, 2013
Daniel Brands (No. 55) defeated the Swiss star in straight sets, giving Federer trouble with his powerful serve. Breaking in a new racket and trying to put his latest struggles to low-ranked players behind him, Federer, instead, dug his current hole a little bit deeper by trying to play through the pain.
Federer admitted after his loss to Brands that his back played a factor in the stunning defeat. Fox Sports News had that information on Twitter:
Federer Live on Twitter also posted some of his comments following the loss to Brands:
Federer: "I took a lot of anti inflammatories last week. Not this week. It's a muscular spasm in the back. I'm just happy to have played."— Roger Federer (@FedererLive) July 25, 2013
The Swiss Open was not the first 2013 event in which Federer dealt with back-related issues.
In a loss to Rafael Nadal at Indian Wells in March, Federer's back also made national headlines. At the time, Federer refused to include his back as a culprit. As you can see in this CNN report, FedEx called the pain a "small issue" after losing the quarterfinal match.
That being said, Federer took a nearly two-month hiatus from tennis following the BNP Paribas Open.
He came back from that layoff strong, reaching the final at the Rome Masters and quarterfinals at the French Open to go along with his win at the Gerry Weber Open.
Whether it's general wear and tear or playing in too many consecutive tournaments, the back issue appears to be back on Federer's front burner.
He can't step away from the game for two months and be back in time for the U.S. Open. That simple fact lends to the idea that skipping the next two tournaments might be the only option to recharge his batteries—and back—enough to perform at a top level in New York.
If nothing else, Federer's comments to reporters following his latest loss should tell you that he is no longer listing the problem as a "small issue." In stark contrast to his comments at Indian Wells, Federer was forced to examine his game after dropping another match to an average ATP player.
That examination, hopefully, helps Federer realize that getting healthy should be his top priority between now and the start of the U.S. Open. I hate to say it because we don't know how many majors he has left, but Federer should avoid the season's final major if he can't claim to feel better than he did in Switzerland.
Where will Federer win his next Grand Slam title?
Federer's trip to Gstaad was supposed to be the first step toward gaining some momentum for this year's final Grand Slam event. Instead, it was a reminder that as professional athletes climb the age ladder, they must start prioritizing health over unabashed confidence to prolong their careers.
Something is not right with Roger Federer's game, and his body looks to be the most likely culprit.
Before we even think about mentioning him as a contender at the U.S. Open, the 17-time Grand Slam champion must spend the next few weeks completely focused on being 100 percent healthy before returning to the court.
It's far too early to count Federer out in pursuit of his 18th major title. It's not too early, though, to come to grips with the idea that playing injured is not the best course of action when you're 31 on the ATP Tour.
All good things must come to an end. Federer's career is one of those things. As sad as it is, new faces and names will soon revert the Swiss star to being mentioned in the same breath as other retired tennis greats.
Forget the U.S. Open—Federer might not be in top form at a Grand Slam event again if he doesn't nip this back problem in the bud.
Follow B/R's Ethan Grant (@DowntownEG) on Twitter.