The legendary sportsman announced on Thursday that he would retire from competitive tennis, following the Laver Cup slated to be held in London at the end of September.
“I am 41 years old; I have played more than 1,500 matches over 24 years,” Federer said in an audio clip posted on social media. “Tennis has treated me more generously than I ever would have dreamed, and now I must recognize when it is time to end my competitive career.”
Fresh after Serena Williams’ announcement that she is ‘evolving away from tennis,’ Federer’s note on Thursday no doubt disappointed millions, but did not surprise. Hampered by knee injuries and surgeries for the last few years, Federer’s last grand slam win was at the 2018 Australian Open, where he beat Rafael Nadal in a five-set thriller.
What is it then about Roger Federer that makes him more myth than man?
Is it his 20 grand slam titles?
It can’t be that. Rafael Nadal has 22, and Novak Djokovic has 21. And yet Federer’s fan following equals near reverence — unbending and oblivious to the numerical order.
Is it his idyllic family life? He has not one, but two sets of twins with former tennis player, Mirka, that only add to the myth of the man. Yes, it’s definitely part of it.
Is it that flawless Swiss manner, where grace and graciousness spontaneously combust to form the most visceral and subtle of gestures and movements, on and off court? Very much so.
For that matter then, is it that very manner that transcends to form that perfect sportsmanship, win or lose, grand slam or not?
Federer is as gracious a loser as he is a winner, inspiring and cheering on generations of fans and young players —converting hundreds and thousands to commit to their dreams, just as he once did. I mean, if the maestro believes in you, how can you disagree? Yes, that is definitely a big part of the allure.
Or finally is it just that elegant and graceful movement, as BBC describes, “a graceful swish of a forehand, a pinpoint delivery of a serve.” Paul Annacone, one of his former coaches has said. “I’ve always felt he was Picasso with a tennis racket. What I will miss most is the beauty he brought to the game,” he was quoted as saying by The New York Times.
“His legacy is grace,” Mary Carillo, a former player and current broadcaster. was quoted as saying by The New York Times.
“Grace in the way he played. Grace under pressure. Grace with children. Grace with kings, with queens. Grace when he moved, when he sat still, when he won, when he lost. In French, in German, in English. In Afrikaans. It was just in his bones to be that way.”
Indeed, grace it was.
His movement on the court – that I have fortunately had the pleasure of witnessing a few times – is a marvel to watch. Equal parts mesmerising and sublime, he would punctuate his nimble footwork and graceful leaps with a casual flick of the wrist leveling powerful forehand deliveries. Add to that majestic symphony, plenty surgical serves, elegant drop shots and so much more. And not to forget that backhand, that mighty, one-handed backhand. The New York Times called his a “balletic game”.
And therein lies the winning formula: it’s all of the above.
Maybe Federer just got every note just right, personally and professionally. His athleticism, his skill, his manners, his attitude and delivery. All of it.
Of course it doesn’t hurt to mention that he was also the highest paid tennis player in 2022 and the highest paid athlete in 2020, according to Forbes, and leaves the game with one of the greatest competitive records in its history: 103 tour singles titles, 20 Grand Slam singles titles, 310 weeks ranked No. 1 and a record six victories in season-ending tour finals. He has also, remarkably, never retired from a match due to injury or illness. For perspective, Djokovic has retired from 13 and Nadal from nine.
It’s not a coincidence that corporate sponsors too echo this sentiment. In the hours following his retirement announcement on Thursday, Swiss watchmaker, Rolex, one of his premier sponsors, released a heartfelt tribute, thanking him for his contribution to the sport, and no doubt affirming the brand’s alignment with the caliber of excellence and sportsmanship that Federer constitutes — an authentic and perfect way to send off the sublime sportsman into his next phase of life.
The level of professionalism Federer brought and respect he paid to the game of tennis, is of course testament to this, and in turn the game rewarded him back. He not only re-energised and re-electrified the game of tennis in the early part of the 20th century but the aura and energy Federer was able to create on the court and in the stands remains unmatched. In former tennis player Patrick McEnroe's words, he "brought a certain class back to the sport,” reported The New York Times.
Prominent French sports newspaper L’Equipe cited how “his entire game bordered on art and the sublime,” debating whether he was the greatest sportsman of all time, up there with the likes of Muhammad Ali, Usain Bolt and Michael Jordan.
In keeping with the sentiment in England and a nod to the death last week of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, the paper used the headline ‘God Save the King’ along with a picture of Federer gazing thoughtfully skywards.
Indeed. God save the King.
So long, Federer. Thank you for the memories.
The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners