Roger Federer and the Mono Myth of 2008

Michael LanichCorrespondent IFebruary 28, 2011

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 25:  Roger Federer of Switzerland wipes his face between games during his semi-final match against Novak Djokovic of Serbia on day twelve of the Australian Open 2008 at Melbourne Park on January 25, 2008 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Mononucleosis is a serious thing, or at least it can be. However, there is a big misconception among most people that having mono means a year-long fight filled with debilitating fatigue, fever, weight loss, etc.

Most people are wrong. Not about the symptoms or their debilitating effect, but about the length of time that most bouts with the virus last.

While there are certainly extreme cases of Mono causing lasting effects for many months or even years, these cases are extremely rare. Nearly all cases are mild, and all effects are gone in the matter of a few months.

For the record, once contracted the virus incubates four to seven weeks before symptoms appear. Symptoms such as fatigue, sore throat, fever, etc. last two to four weeks, although fatigue can last roughly two to three months from the onset of symptoms.

While vigorous activity should be abated during and shortly after the acute symptom stages, it can be resumed once okayed by a doctor.

So why am I giving this lesson on the so-called "kissing virus?"

Because once and for all I would like to put to bed a common myth that many fans of Roger Federer have been using to justify an abnormally unsuccessful 2008 campaign in which he lost to Rafael Nadal in both Roland Garros (a lopsided affair) and Wimbledon (a razor-sharp one).

I don't doubt for a moment that Federer had mono. You won't hear me argue that it probably contributed to his demise at the Australian Open that year. I might even go as far as to agree that the last vestiges of the fatigue may have also hurt him during the spring hard court season, but that would be as far as I am willing to budge.

Also, in between the end of the spring hard court season and the clay season is about three to four weeks in which players like Nadal and Federer rarely play. This added recovery time basically ensures that by the time he stepped onto the courts at Monte Carlo, Federer was physically fine.

Roland Garros seems to be a big indicator to a great many people that Roger was still reeling from the effects of mono. That he was basically eviscerated is somehow proof that it's true. 

But is it?

I have several much more reasonable assertions as to why he lost in such a drastic way that day. How about this one for you: he simply had a bad day at the office. 

Whether you ever shot around with a basketball and nothing felt right? Regardless of whatever you do it seems like no shot wants to go in. You try and try and eventually call it a day because it just isn't clicking that day.

My guess is that Roger simply did not come close to bringing his A-game that day and he paid dearly for it. Many of his shots early in the match were going out by merely an inch, just consistently enough to end the match quickly.

I think there is another reason too. This was Roger's third consecutive final against Nadal and he wanted badly to win and complete his career slam, so he hired José Higueras to help him find a way to defeat Nadal, but I think it backfired.

Roger looked unsettled throughout the match. He appeared unable to truly decide how to attack or even really play that day. He had played great throughout the tournament, but that day against Nadal, it looked as though his own tactics mixed with Higueras's were conflicting so much that it may have kept him from fully committing to much of anything. 

It's these reasons and not some lingering fatigue from an illness that by all accounts should have been out of his system for a couple of months by that point.

Wimbledon should have been a big indicator that everything was just fine considering the high level of play, and yet still it's mono that cost him the title and not Nadal's level of play.

There are reasons why we should know that Roger was perfectly fine come the clay season. One is that he himself said he was perfectly fine.

Another reason is his performances leading up the Roland Garros. He faced Nadal twice at Hamburg and Monte Carlo. Both were tight matches, with Hamburg being a 7-6, 7-6 loss. 

A person with mono, especially against Nadal on clay could not play to that level; in fact, it could be argued that to play tennis at all, your mono cannot be that severe.

The hot conditions, long rallies and high level of play say to me that Roger was Roger as we know it, he just was playing against a Nadal at a ridiculous level.

I don't have any real hardcore proof. I don't have doctor's reports, nor anything else that can say definitively that Roger didn't have mono at that time of the year, but neither does anyone else. At least my reasoning is more sound, and though it's based on medical time tables, performances, etc., at least it's based on something.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.