Roger Federer Calls Time on His Legendary Career
Kate looks at the Swiss legend’s glittering tennis career following his retirement at the Laver Cup.
The tennis world knew it was coming. Aged 41, burdened with debilitating knee injuries, and not having played a competitive match since his quarterfinal loss in last year’s Wimbledon tournament, it seemed certain that Roger Federer’s 24-year career wouldn’t last much longer. But, when Federer announced on 15 September that he would be retiring after the Laver Cup in London, the inevitability did nothing to dampen the emotions.
Even for non-fanatics, Federer hardly needs an introduction. With 20 Grand Slam singles titles, he has established himself as nothing less than an icon in the men’s singles discipline. His career can best be illustrated in records: most consecutive weeks spent at world no. 1 (237), most wins at the year-end ATP Finals (6), most Wimbledon titles (8), and most US Open titles in the Open Era (5, tied with Pete Sampras and Jimmy Connors). Representing his home country, Switzerland, he won the Olympic gold medal in men’s doubles in 2008, partnering Stan Wawrinka, and he also triumphed in the 2014 Davis Cup.
After playing and winning at so many illustrious tournaments and venues, it’s fitting that Federer would sign off his tennis career at his own brainchild, the Laver Cup. He came up with the idea of a tournament based on the Ryder Cup, which sees golfers from Europe face off against golfers from the United States. The first Laver Cup, named for Australian tennis great Rod Laver, was first held in 2017 in Prague and saw Team Europe, including Federer, triumph over Team World.
Federer played his final match whilst partnering with his longtime rival and friend Rafael Nadal playing against the American duo of Frances Tiafoe and Jack Sock. As expected, the O2 Arena crowd of approximately 17,000 was overwhelmingly in favor of the soon-departing legend. Federer and Nadal took the first set 6-4 before Tiafoe and Sock drew level 6(2)-7(7) to force a ten-point tiebreak. The legendary pair took the opening three points of the tiebreak, but even with the audience’s support, a victory wasn’t meant to be. Despite holding a match point, Federer and Nadal couldn’t capitalize on the chance, eventually falling 11-9 in the tiebreak after a forehand winner from Sock.
No matter the outcome of the match, the scenes following the winning shot would have likely been the same. Federer made his way around the edge of the court, hugging each of his teammates and opponents in turn, before a tribute video featuring the participants of the Laver Cup, was broadcast to the arena. Tears began to flow. From Rafael Nadal beside the court, from Federer’s parents and wife Mirka in the stands, and from Federer himself as he made his final speech in front of a crowd that was nearly as emotional as he was. “It’s been a pleasure playing all these Laver Cups and it does feel like a celebration to me,” Federer said. “I wanted it to feel like this at the end and it’s exactly what I hoped for, so thank you.”
Federer withdrew from Team Europe following the loss, with 2021 Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini taking his place. Though he was no longer playing on the court, Federer remained on the Team Europe bench with captain Björn Borg and vice-captain Thomas Enqvist, encouraging his teammates and celebrating every point with his former colleagues. Berrettini went on to defeat world no. 13 Félix Auger-Aliassime in the opening singles match on Saturday before teaming up with Novak Djokovic for a straight-sets victory over Jack Sock and Alex de Minaur in doubles. With Djokovic also triumphing over Tiafoe in singles, Team Europe entered the final round of matches with an 8-4 lead. However, Sunday saw them falter, with Auger-Aliassime and Tiafoe defeating Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas, respectively, in singles, and Sock and Auger-Aliassime defeating Berrettini and Andy Murray in doubles. Team World finished with 13 points to Europe’s 8 and lifted their first-ever title, with Team Europe having won the previous five editions.
The trio of Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic, known as the “Big Three”, have dominated the men’s singles discipline for much of the 21st century. Out of the 75 Grand Slam tournaments played since 2004, only 12 have not been won by one of those three players. Only one outsider managed to top the ATP rankings during that time, with Andy Murray holding the no. 1 spot for 41 weeks between 2016 and 2017. Nadal and Djokovic have continued to triumph in the recent cycle of Grand Slams—the former won this year’s Australian and French Opens, while the latter clinched his fourth consecutive Wimbledon title—but a new generation has begun to emerge from the tail end of the Big Three’s reign. In February, 2021 US Open champion Daniil Medvedev ascended to the top of the rankings; besides Murray, he was the first to do so since Andy Roddick in 2004. This month’s US Open was won by Nadal’s compatriot, 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz Garfia, who became the youngest player to top the ATP rankings since their establishment. With these young stars on the rise, it was monumental for the Big Three, who defined an entire generation of tennis, to play together at Federer’s final tournament. Nadal in particular spoke of his admiration for Federer throughout their decades-long friendship, stating that he was “[happy] to finish our career like friends after everything we shared on court like rivals”.
Federer’s retirement from the professional circuit is an enormous loss for the sport, but he has certainly left his mark on his successors. In an on-court interview after his victory against Auger-Aliassime on Saturday, Matteo Berrettini spoke of Federer’s impact. “The reason I chose to be a tennis player is because of him,” the 26-year-old Italian said, eliciting a cheer from the audience. “He was my idol. He inspired me so much. Not just me, but billions of people.”
Though Federer couldn’t end his career with a victory, the result was far overshadowed by a celebration fitting for an all-time great.
44 thoughts on “Roger Federer Calls Time on His Legendary Career”
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