On the 23rd of September 2022, Roger Federer played the last match of his exceptional career at the Laver Cup in London. One of the greatest players of all time, the 41-year-old Swiss deserves tribute for revolutionising his sport, on and off the courts.
“I’m happy. I’m not sad,” Federer tells former world no.1 Jim Courier courtside at the O2 Arena, moments after a trifling defeat alongside Rafael Nadal at the hands of Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe. Supported by his family and Tennis legends, Roger had an emotive farewell. After twenty-four years on the professional circuit, he too accepted the limits of corporeal form. “I wish this day would have never come,” stated Nadal… so do we, as we look back on his illustrious career.
At 16, Roger Federer made his ATP debut at the 1998 Swiss Open Gstaad, losing in straight sets. The first of many victories would be chalked up in Toulouse against Frenchman Guillaume Raoux not three months later. In 2003, he would win his eleventh title and first Grand Slam at Wimbledon. The Basler was on a roll, becoming world no.1 the next year thanks to his victories at the US Open, Wimbledon, and the Australian Open, doubling his trophy cabinet in 12 months. He remained on top of the world for a record 237 consecutive weeks, until knocked off by Nadal in 2008. Eight-time Grand Slam winner Jimmy Connors would claim that, “In an era of specialists, you’re either a clay court specialist, a grass court specialist, or a hard court specialist…or you’re Roger Federer.” 2009 then saw Federer’s only Roland Garros win (firmly thereafter Nadal’s hunting ground) and the completion of the set, as well as a record-equalling five consecutive Wimbeldons. A decade later, King Roger’s record included 20 Grand Slams and a Davis Cup for Switzerland with his friend Stanislas Wawrinka, previously his partner for the 2008 Olympic Doubles Gold. His 103rd and final title came poetically in his hometown in 2019.
In addition to his outstanding longevity, Federer never stopped fighting on the court; not once in his 1,526 singles matches did he retire. Overcoming injuries, the Swiss Maestro fought memorable battles against the best, and the 2017 Australian Open final against the “Bull of Manacor” Nadal is up there. Whilst many thought Federer was past it, he came back stronger, five years after his last Grand Slam success, to win a classic final in five sets. Months later, the Swiss player confirmed his return with his eighth Wimbledon title and became the oldest world no.1 at 36.
Above all, he will be remembered for his graceful game, elegance on the court, and style which defied indifference. John McEnroe lauded Federer as “the most beautiful player [he has] ever watched.” What else is there to say about that wonderful one-hand backhand which left opponents rooted on the spot? Unpredictable drop shots driving other players mad? The “sneak attack by Roger” (moving forward quickly on return of service to play the ball as soon as possible)? The formidable service and surgical forehand, which combine to deserve the moniker “The God of tennis”?
During the last quarter century, he was unanimously recognised as a friendly, happy, and unaffected player, close to the embodiment of perfection. Novak Djokovic couldn’t help but praise his rival’s iconic journey, admiring how Federer’s career “…has set the tone for what it means to achieve excellence and lead with integrity and poise.”
One-time rival Mats Wilander, now of Eurosport, announced that “he would be easily the most popular and the one that has affected and taken our sport into people’s living room where people that have never even seen tennis before enjoyed him”. Another whose appeal has gone beyond tennis, 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams declared that he had “inspired countless millions and millions of people – including me – and we will never forget.” Off the court, the Roger Federer Foundation provides educational opportunities in the developing world. For this noble cause, he faced his friend Nadal in South Africa in 2020 in front of a record 51,594.
Tennis has been orphaned by one of the greatest players in history, yet is likely that Federer will stay around the sport which made him what he is today.
Roger, we hope to see you again… thank you for everything.