Roger Federer, on Thursday, told the world he has had it enough. After battling opponents and his own body for several years, he decided to retire from competitive tennis. The Laver Cup next week will be his last stint on a court and those who have the tickets to the event will be calling themselves doubly lucky. They will not just see Federer play live after a long time but also the last time. Federer played the sport with utmost honesty, grace and even in his retirement annoucement, there was a reflection of his self.
He announced his retirement via a voice note. He put it out on all his social media accounts with a smiling Federer looking at the fans. And there it was, Federer finally pulling out the plug. You heard his voice and looked at the smiling Federer. He chose some very kind and heart-warming words to thank his fans, wife, coaches among other people. And he ensured, it was an audio note, so that his fans heard each and every word of his without any distraction of a visual. There was a Federer touch even in the retirement speech.
To my tennis family and beyond,
It would not be wrong to say that every time Roger Federer played, he made this world a slightly better place. In those moments he played and fought and won and lost, and carried himself, he inspired many. Today, the word inspiration is so widely and sometimes unnecessarily used, it has lost its meaning. Federer makes the term alive again. And it’s just not the way he has fought on the court, but also how he has kept his composure despite close losses.
Thinking of Federer’s fight, the mind instantly goes to his legendary Australian Open 2017 final vs Rafael Nadal. Or the epic vs Novak Djokovic in Wimbledon 2019. Or several such games. After each of these matches, where he challenged his body to come out victorious or ended up losing, he was always a sight to behold. Federer gave his all in over 1500 matches over two decades. He competed hard but more importantly, irrespective of a win or loss, he kept his dignity. It remains his biggest achievement, bigger than even those 20 slams.
It is difficult to find a flaw in the Swiss legend, both on and off the court. When he was at his peak, it was difficult to outdo him. He has done so much that it is difficult to keep up with the numbers. But let’s try a little. 24 years of non-stop tennis. 1526 matches. 1,251 wins. 310 weeks as No 1 player. 103 titles. 20 Grand Slam wins. Federer even made zero a huge number in his career. Not many know, but Federer never retired during a tennis match. He has 0 match retirements, which is testimony to how fit he was.
In July 2016, he injured his knee while playing Wimbledon semi-finals. That injury brought an early end to his season. He missed the Olympics, and the US Open and took almost 6 months to regain fitness. At that time, Federer had 17 Grand Slam titles and it appeared he would not be able to touch the 20 mark. He was 35. And was battling his fragile body. But Federer fought. He came to play Australian Open next year and faced his biggest rival in Rafael Nadal in the final. That match went for ages and after a rigorous 3 hours and 38 minutes, Federer managed to outdo a fighting Nadal to win his 18th Grand Slam.
There were tears flowing down. The genius turned into a child. It seemed he was born again. The papers who had written him off changed their headlines. But Federer did not answer back. In a way he did by winning the title. But never through words. He would have retired as a legend, a GOAT even with 17 Grand Slam titles. But he decided to keep fighting and waiting and fighting for the love of the sport. In the last 6 years, Federer has won only 3 Grand Slam titles. The fact that I say ‘only’ tells you he could have had more. And even at 41, fans awaited his another comeback from an injury. They felt Federer could still do it before the man himself realised, there is no use fighting the time.
Like how writer Ruskin Bond put in one of his stories, ‘it is not the time that is passing by, it is you and I’. Federer realises he cannot give anymore to tennis as a player. But promises, in his retirement note, that he will never leave the sport. Tennis will always be synonymous with Federer. He may soon fade away from the tennis court. But his memories will not. Stories of his fight, wins will keep going forward from one generation to the other. And that is why when someone says it, you believe it to be true. That Federer is forever.