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Serena Williams would not have been treated the same as Roger Federer if she had abruptly withdrawn from the French Open like the Swiss superstar, and would have faced 10 times the criticism.
That’s according to British tennis commentator Catherine Whitaker, who also believes Novak Djokovic would have been slammed if he had done the same as Federer.
Federer withdrew from Roland-Garros on Sunday, just a day after his third round victory over Dominik Koepfer, saying he needed to protect his body ahead of Wimbledon and the grass-court season.
The 39-year-old underwent two knee surgeries in the first half of 2020, forcing him to miss almost an entire year of tennis.
“It’s important that I listen to my body and make sure I don’t push myself too quickly on my road to recovery,”, he said. “I am thrilled to have gotten three matches under my belt.”
While Federer has come under fire from some corner for his decision to drop out, including from ex-pro Patrick McEnroe, but ultimately any criticism of the Swiss star has been limited.
Whitaker believes the backlash would have been far more severe if it was Williams or Djokovic who had withdrawn, saying that Williams in particular, would likely have been heavily criticized.
“There is an argument that he’s completely earned special consideration,” Whitaker said on The Tennis Podcast.
“But on the other hand I can’t help but feel uncomfortable with it and uncomfortable with what it does for the integrity of the sport and the Grand Slam events,” she added, echoing points made by McEnroe on his podcast earlier in the week.
“My next point is absolutely not Roger Federer’s fault, but this decision would absolutely be treated differently if it were Novak Djokovic making it.
“I think it would be received twice as negatively if Novak Djokovic were making it, and 10 times as negatively as if it was Serena Williams making it.
Djokovic has come under heavy criticism from the media and many in tennis in recent years for a number of incidents, most recently after complaining about quarantine conditions ahead of the Australian Open in February.
Williams, too, has frequently been subjected to mass condemnation over minor issues throughout her career. Perhaps most famously, she was widely attacked over her behavior during the 2018 US Open final.
Speaking on The Tennis Podcast, Whitaker also suggested that Federer may sometimes be given too much scope for indiscretions by tennis fans and pundits alike.
“While [Federer] has absolutely earned some special consideration, I also think he gets leeway, too much leeway sometimes, because of how evangelical people feel about him.”
Co-host Matt Roberts concurred with Whitaker, saying: “Federer gets away with stuff partly because he’s earned it. In a situation like this, he’s retired from no matches in his career. He’s withdrawn from five tournaments in his very long career.
“No one is saying that at any time Federer has been bringing into question the integrity of the sport or the tournaments he’s playing. This is a very one-off thing at a very particular stage of his career.
“But I completely agree, I think we could be in a situation in years to come where Serena perhaps, Djokovic, Nadal perhaps, take a similar decision as they prioritize a different major tournament, for example.
“I think in those instances it would be very important to remember the slack that Federer has been cut for this by most people.”