Mirka @ O2 November 18 2014


It’s getting murky, L’Affaire Mirka, isn’t it? The French always brand anything really riveting as an affair and it doesn’t necessarily translate into the obvious.

This, anyway, is not a story about love and everyone who wants the Davis Cup Final between France and Switzerland, which will be played out in front of some 27,000 people in Lille, to be a historic moment for the 114 year old competition hopes that the sudden antipathy that has arisen between ROGER FEDERER and STAN WAWRINKA can be controlled and softened.

But from the moment Federer walked out onto court at the 02 on Sunday evening to announce that a bad back would prevent him from playing the final against NOVAK DJOKOVIC in the ATP World Finals, the questions have been spinning and the answers hovering out of reach.

Let’s tackle a few head on:

Q. Was a bad back the real reason and the only reason for Federer withdrawing from a match for only the third time in his long career?

A. It was almost certainly the main reason. He suffered from a bad back through most of last year and Ivan Ljubicic, the current coach of Milos Raonic, tweeted from courtside that he sensed Roger had a bad back in the warm up of his semi-final against Wawrinka.

Q. But the only reason?

A. Well, if Federer and Wawrinka, long time friends, got into a big argument before they left the 02 on Saturday night, the stress and the long drive back to the hotel that followed will certainly not have helped. Anyone who has suffered from a bad back will tell you stress equals pain.

Q. And so why were they arguing?

A. As some spectators witnessed, Mirka Federer began shouting stuff at Wawrinka just as Roger broke back, late in the third set. Stan did not take kindly to it and someone heard him say afterwards that it had happened at Wimbledon. He reacted by telling her to knock it off, or some such, whereupon Mirka told him not to be a baby. Apparently Federer was furious that his childhood pal had spoken to his wife that way but unconfirmed reports say that he was not best pleased with Mirka, either.

Q. So what made Mirka interject in that manner, especially as her husband was in the process of getting back into the match (he eventually saved four match points)?

A. That, folks, is the $64,000 question. Or should it be $64m today? Here we have a situation in which two great friends are struggling for supremacy in one of the most important matches of the year just one week away from teaming up to play in a Davis Cup Final that could turn into one of the most triumphant and important moments in the history of Swiss sport. And what do we get? A wife imposing herself on the proceedings. Why, indeed. Was it a cry from the shadows; a final refusal to play the supporting background role of the ever faithful spouse who contributes so much to the stunningly successful Federer bandwagon yet rarely gets any credit? Was it some strange resentment towards Stan for having the effrontery to win a Grand Slam back in January in Melbourne and then steal even more of the limelight by actually beating Roger in the Monte Carlo final in April? Was it the fact that, as a Czech, she doesn’t quite get the Swiss thing and doesn’t even care? Surely not. She lives with this man and must know full well how Roger has dedicated a major slice of his year to fulfilling his one remaining ambition – to win the Davis Cup. Was it just that this very serious, very organized and seemingly self controlled woman suddenly lost it and let some deep seated emotion burst forth? We struggle for answers, for some rationale, for some insight into an example of how stress can make a mockery of common sense.

Q. So where does this leave poor Severin Luthi, the Swiss Davis Cup captain who travels much of the year with Federer as his coach in harness with Stephan Edberg?

A. In the worst position imaginable. Apparently he was in on the row which erupted between the two men he has to captain this weekend and only he knows how he will handle his role of captain, confidante, nurse and now peacemaker in Lille. Arthur Ashe faced something of the same problem in Gothenberg in 1984 when John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors couldn’t bear the sight of each other and dragged the United States to an ignominious defeat. But there wasn’t a woman involved and, anyway, McEnroe and Connors had never been friends, unlike this pair. That surely must be Luthi’s life-line – to draw on the memories of the real friendship that has existed between Roger and Stan and try to make them see past the unfortunate happenings of the last few days.

But it is not an enviable task and a Davis Cup Final that was going to be riveting enough is now layered with emotions and question marks no one could have foreseen. Oh, and just a final Q & A. How bad is the Federer back and will he be able to play? Only Roger knows the answer to that but I would be very surprised if he does not take the court in Lille.

Copyright 2014 Richard Evans