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Friday, August 1, 2008
Federer's Affliction


News flash out of Cincinnati: Roger Federer has been stricken by a condition that is rare but not unknown, commonly called "Seven-Day Tournament Influenza." The symptoms of SDTI are apathy, listlessness and a loss of focus (and sometimes confidence) at tournaments that do not last a full two weeks, and a player is especially vulnerable to the disease at ATP Tour events he has won at least twice.

While not considered to be life threatening, SDTI has been known to adversely affect a player's ability to perform in Grand Slam events and his ATP ranking. It also appears to have an odd effect on lower-ranked players, often improving their games and confidence when they step out to battle champions afflicted with SDTI.

The top players who have succumbed to SDTI include Bjorn Borg, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. Other former No. 1s appear to be immune; for example, Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl never did contract the disease.

Sampras was the most recent sufferer of SDTI. Fom late 1999 until he won his last major title in September 2002, he frequently battled the condition with mixed results. But while he absorbed surprising losses in sub-major events, occasionally failing to win tournaments for months at a time, he still managed to perform well enough in Grand Slam events (in which, experts believe, the influenza is suppressed by the unusually high silver content in the champion's trophy). His overall performance in seven-day events, even the prestigious Masters Series tournaments, obviously suffered.

"It got to the point where I would arrive at a tournament in, say, Indianapolis, and even though I enjoyed the U.S. Open summer circuit and played my best tennis on hard courts, I'd just look at some of the other top guys, and we'd just shrug and say, "Same s---, different year," he said.

Players who have contracted SDTI say that while losing in events below Grand Slam status did not deplete their financial resources or significantly affect their abilities to perform other duties as product endorsers, tournament-guarantee earners, ambassadors for the game, fathers, husbands or skirt chasers, the extra incentive their condition gave to players they previously had handled with ease was a troublesome, repetitive issue. In its most virulent form, SDTI can cause players to suffer unexpected losses at multiple Grand Slam events.

SDTI is most often contracted by players who have held the No. 1 ranking for a lengthy period of time, and it usually strikes after a player has passed the age of 26. It is thought to be triggered by some of the same factors that trigger herpes simplex -- exposure to strong sunlight and stress. The early warning signs of SDTI include puzzling first-round losses, during which players might hurl rackets, argue with officials or look repeatedly at the player guest box, shrugging. A growing aversion to the media is another marker of the condition, as are repeated denials that anything is wrong.

When contacted Thursday night, Federer's agent, Tony Godsick of IMG, said, "SDTI? What's that, some new missile-defense system?"

When he was pressed on the subject, Godsick said, "There is absolutely nothing wrong with Roger. He plans to continue his drive to replace Pete Sampras as the all-time Grand Slam singles champion. Right now, he's very focused on the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing and defending his title at the U.S. Open."

Federer was unavailable for comment.