Federer Brought Joy To A Golden Era Of Tennis

Roger Federer (photo: Roger Federer/Instagram video)

WASHINGTON, September 15, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Within minutes after Roger Federer announced his retirement from tennis on Thursday – the Laver Cup next week in London will be his final ATP event – the tributes began to pour in on social media. There were many and they were all sincere and genuine.

Of all the gifts that tennis has given Federer, the greatest without a doubt, he wrote, has been the people he’s met along the way. “My friends, my competitors, and most of all the fans who give the sport its life.”

It is said that timing is everything and Federer, 41, has always shown impeccable timing throughout his storied and artistic career that began as a ball kid growing up in Basel, Switzerland. Federer’s announcement came just five weeks after Serena Williams announced her “evolution” away from the sport. Who could have imagined that this day would arrive for Federer, too?

In a letter written to his fans from home in Switzerland and posted Thursday on his social media channels, Federer wrote: “As many of you know, the past three years have presented me with challenges in the form of injuries and surgeries. I’ve worked hard to return to full competitive form. But I also know my body’s capacities and limits, and its message to me lately has been clear. I am 41 years old. I have played more than 1500 matches over 24 years. Tennis has treated me more generously than I ever would have dreamt, and now I must recognize when it is time to end my competitive career.

“The Laver Cup next week in London will be my final ATP event. I will play more tennis in the future, of course, but just not in Grand Slams or on the tour.”

Federer has not competed since Wimbledon in July 2021. Since then, he’s undergone multiple surgeries to his left knee and tried to rehabilitate it in order to regain elite form and continue playing competitively.

Federer expressed that it was a bittersweet decision because “I will miss everything the tour has given me. But at the same time, there is so much to celebrate. I consider myself one of the most fortunate people on Earth. I was given a special talent to play tennis, and I did it at a level that I never imagined, for much longer than I ever thought possible.”

While Federer thanked his wife, Mirka, and his four children; his parents and sister, plus his coaches, business partners and sponsors – as well as the hard-working teams and tournaments on the ATP Tour – he also made a point to thank his competitors on the court.

“I was lucky enough to play so many epic matches that I will never forget. We battled fairly, with passion and intensity, and I always tried my best to respect the history of the game. I feel extremely grateful. We pushed each other, and together we took tennis to new levels.”

Above all else, Federer gave praise to his “unbelievable” fans. “You will never know how much strength and belief you have given me. The inspiring feeling of walking into full stadiums and arenas has been one of the huge thrills in my life. Without you, those successes would have felt lonely, rather than filled with joy and energy.”

Federer’s career began at age 16 in July 1998 in Gstaad, Switzerland, with a 6-4, 6-4 loss to Lucas Arnold Ker of Argentina and ended at age 39 – almost 40 – with a 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-0 loss to Hubert Hurkacz of Poland in July 2021 at Wimbledon.

Indeed, the last 24 years have been an incredible adventure, thanks to Federer and Williams – global citizens of sport – especially during the Grand Slam fortnights. Federer has played in more than 40 countries and he’s laughed and cried, felt joy and pain – and at his best, his tennis has been incredibly alive and sublime. His eight Wimbledon titles represent some of his greatest moments among the 20 major titles and 103 tour-level crowns he’s won. He surpassed Pete Sampras with a then-leading 15 major titles, then was passed by two of his contemporaries, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. His battles against his Big Four mates – Nadal and Djokovic, and Andy Murray – were all memorable.

If you are interested in learning more about Federer, two books worth a very good read are: The Master: The Long Run and Beautiful Game of Roger Federer by New York Times tennis correspondent Christopher Clarey, about Federer and this golden age in men’s tennis, published in 2021; and Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal, and the Greatest Match Ever Played, by Sports Illustrated tennis writer and Tennis Channel insider L. Jon Wertheim, about the epic Federer-Nadal 2008 Wimbledon final.

On a personal note, Federer has been one of just a very small number of athletes, whom I would drop whatever I was doing to watch perform on TV – especially during the Grand Slams. There was always a sense of wonder in watching him play on Centre Court at Wimbledon as well as on Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Open. He was greatness personified – he showed class and respected the history of the game – and he dressed the part, too. It all added up.

It’s never easy when one of the greats of sports steps down. Federer may be retiring from the competitive arena, but he never retired from a match. Fortunately, Federer leaves the sport of tennis better than when he arrived – and it will be exciting to see if the next generation of men’s players that includes Carlos Alcaraz, Jannik Sinner and Frances Tiafoe are ready to step up and carry on the aesthetics and athleticism that Federer brought to the sport. Hopefully, there will be others who will combine elegance and grace, and a beautiful game, too.

In the meantime, here’s giving thanks to Federer, who definitely made tennis better on and off the court. As he exits the stage, he will be missed. Mind you, I think it will be exciting to see Roger continue to bring joy to the world in other ways. No doubt he will be just as successful.

“So, I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart, to everyone around the world who has helped make the dreams of a young Swiss ball kid come true,” Federer concluded in his message.

“Finally, to the game of tennis, I love you and will never leave you.”