Even in the most hopeless of situations, Federer’s mind would be searching for a window of opportunity that would allow him to return to the game. He was not going to let the consequences of defeat cloud his judgement.
A 41-year-old Swiss, not a super-athlete but a true modern-day sporting great, announced his retirement days after a 19-year-old Spaniard outlasted, outran, and outpowered yet another opponent to win his first Grand Slam and become the new World No.1.
The grand coronation of Carlos Alcaraz and Roger Federer’s graceful exit is that page-turning moment that alerts fans that the book they’ve been savouring for far too long and hoping wouldn’t end is about to reach the back jacket. After 24 years of playing beautiful tennis and winning 20 Grand Slams, the oldest of the Big 3 was saying his final goodbyes. Federer’s rivals, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, are both ageing and appear frail.
The teenagers and twenty-somethings were finally not cursing themselves for being born during the reign of three GOATS. They saw a window of opportunity now, because the draws at tennis events would appear less intimidating. Planet Tennis will experience disruption and displacement because it will no longer be divided into three halves, the largest of which will be inhabited by those with RF tattooed on their souls. Tennis was about to undergo a generational shift, and Federer, despite his impending retirement, had a ‘first’ to his name.
Federer would end a lengthy thank-you note on social media with a touching final line: “Finally, to the game of tennis, I love you and will never leave you.” His body of work has ensured that he will remain on record lists and that his legacy will live on.
Federer’s supple and agile frame had recently made him appear increasingly out of place on tennis courts. Even among his illustrious peers, he bore the most resemblance to players from the previous century. He was a throwback to a time when tennis was all about strokes rather than strides. There was a sense of relief during his big announcement, as he cut the last thread with which he had barely managed to stay on the pro circuit. He no longer had to punish his body, strive to stay relevant, and try to beat tennis players who could easily pass themselves off as athletes, bodybuilders, and gymnasts.
Federer, like most legends, understood the science of his sport. There is a popular belief among fans that Federer’s greatness is more appreciated by those who have played sports seriously. You can only understand how he perfected the complex geometry of the rectangle box if you’ve struggled to cover the court. He never took an extra step to get to the ball, which gave him the appearance of being unhurried and effortless.
Federer stuck to his energy-efficient footwork pattern shot after shot, match after match, for years. Those massive first strides, the small adjustment steps just before the ball, became his signature move. It was a simple routine, but it was difficult to follow in the heat of a match. It was this lovely balance that coaches would want their charges to emulate.
While pundits drool over his footwork, Federer’s game will always be associated with his balletic single-handed backhand. If tribute-givers want to erect life-size statues of him outside stadiums in the future, it will invariably be that pose of him with his racket pointing to the sky, ready to unleash his favourite shot. With his knees bent, his racket-wielding right hand would first flow down with the smoothness and energy of a waterfall, and then, after hitting the ball, climb up like a rising wave in the follow-through. Any freeze frame of his backhand had the potential to be a painting muse.
The elegant mind behind his beautiful game was frequently overlooked because he was mostly associated with artistry. Even in the most hopeless of situations, Federer’s mind would be searching for a window of opportunity that would allow him to return to the game. He wasn’t going to let the consequences of defeat cloud his judgement. Federer wasn’t afraid to play with razor-thin margins at crucial moments because the distractions of defeat never got close to him. An ace to avoid a break, an ace on Championship point — it was all part of Federer’s legendary act.
It was his grace and guts that won him fans for life. He was voted the second-most trusted man on the planet after Nelson Mandela in a survey conducted in 25 countries. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Bono were among those who supported him.Off the court, it was his near-perfect behaviour that gave him global appeal and made him a darling of organisers, brand managers, and the corporate world. Federer was the Prince Charming with picture-perfect frames in a tennis fairytale. He and his wife Mirka met while competing for Switzerland in tennis at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. They began dating in the Games village. His box at Grand Slams sometimes looked like a family picnic. There’d be his wife, parents, and twins — two girls and two boys.
Federer is not a GOAT if greatness is measured by the number of Grand Slams. He is the third most successful Grand Slam winner of all time. However, there are pedestals much higher than podiums for players like Federer.