LONDON -- Roger Federer gave Novak Djokovic a walkover in the final of the ATP World Tour Finals on Sunday after he pulled out of the tournament due to a back injury. The announcement came just 30 minutes before the final was set to begin and Federer addressed the crowd himself, apologizing and explaining he was unfit to compete against Djokovic. This marks just the third time in his career that Federer has given a walkover in a tournament. He pulled out of the Paris Masters before playing James Blake in 2008 and before playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2012 in Doha.
"It's a very disappointing end to the season," Federer said. "I was playing so well here, had a great season so far. I was feeling great until yesterday's tiebreaker. I felt all of a sudden the back was feeling funny. I tried to have treatment on it, medication on it, just tried to turn around as quick as possible really, but didn't really feel that much of an improvement overnight. Then you don't have a day off or anything to work with, obviously it's not enough time to recover. The way I feel right now, there's no way I can compete at any level really."
The withdrawal came less than 24 hours after he saved four match points to defeat Stan Wawrinka in the semifinals on Saturday night. Federer says he injured his back late in the match against Wawrinka and was unable to recover in time. Now begins the rush to get fit for the Davis Cup final, which begins on Friday. Federer and Wawrinka will attempt to lead Switzerland to its first Davis Cup title against France in Lille.
"Probably in a few days it's going to be better, but right now it's not good enough," Federer said. "So clearly it's very disappointing."
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With the walkover, Djokovic consolidates his position as the year-end No. 1 by becoming the first player since Ivan Lendl to win the ATP Finals three years in a row. The title is his seventh of the year, capping off a season in which he won Wimbledon to retake the No. 1 ranking from Rafael Nadal, as well as Indian Wells, Miami, Rome, Beijing, Paris, and now the ATP Finals. He clinched the year-end No. 1 ahead of No. 2 Federer after going undefeated through group play this week.
Djokovic learned of the withdrawal during the doubles final. "It's very awkward situation to talk about it, to be honest, today," he said. "You never like to win, especially these big matches against big rivals, with the retirement. But that's the way it is."
With the Davis Cup final looming, Djokovic dismissed any suggestion that Federer withdrew to protect his body for next weekend's tie. "I don't think he was calculating and trying to save his body for Davis Cup final," Djokovic said. "I'm sure that that wasn't the case. This is probably one of the biggest matches of the year for him, as well as for me."
Federer also made the announcement on his Facebook page:
Knowing that Federer was unfit to take the court, the ATP scrambled to come up with a solution to give the fans a show. Chris Kermode, head of the ATP, called up Andy Murray at 2pm to see if he would be willing to come down to the O2 to play a series of exhibition matches. Murray was at home on the couch playing videogames when he got the call. He immediately agreed and drove himself down to the arena to play an exhibition set against Djokovic and then team up with John McEnroe to play doubles against Pat Cash and Tim Henman.
"I was playing Mario Kart on my sofa when I got the call," Murray said. "I was winning at that. It's better than my tennis at the moment," he joked.