Roger Federer lounged on a sofa, the picture of relaxation in a navy blue jersey, black sweatpants and white sneakers. He had just showered and changed after a practice session Wednesday at the arena that will be used for the final game of his career, and was all smiles as he talked about getting into a groove with a racket in hand.
“It was fun, hitting the court, good lighting, all good, how your level starts to go up, you know?” he told her in an interview with The Associated Press, after a farewell news conference. “Whereas if you play at home, like on a regular tennis court, things are fast, the lights aren’t great, the hype is all around you, you can never find this kind of rhythm.”
So, is it time to cancel your withdrawal?
Federer is known for his elegant style of play, for his longevity, for his 20 Grand Slam titles, and for the occasional tear in his most emotional post-match moments, whether after victory or loss.
There was none of that kind of sadness on Wednesday, just a few laughs at his own jokes, as Federer spoke of his retirement from professional tennis at age 41 after a series of knee operations. He will close out his playing days with a doubles match at the Laver Cup on Friday, perhaps alongside his rival Rafael Nadal.
Federer said he is at peace with the decision to leave, which comes a few weeks after Serena Williams played what is expected to be her last match at the US Open, and wants this parting to be a celebration.
“I really don’t want it to be a funeral,” Federer said. “I want him to be really happy and powerful and in party mode.”
‘I am nervous’
Wearing a blue blazer with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows and a white polo shirt, Federer answered questions from various media outlets during the press conference ahead of the team competition founded by his management company.
“I’m nervous going in, because I haven’t played in a long time,” he said. “I hope I can be somewhat competitive.”
Federer, who announced last week via social media that he would retire after the Laver Cup, said the idea of walking away from the competition took some getting used to.
But it was something he understood he had to do after suffering setbacks in July during his rehab from what was his third right knee surgery in about a year and a half.
“At some point, you sit down and say, ‘Okay, we’re at an intersection here, at a crossroads, and you have to turn. Which way is it?’ He wasn’t about to go in the direction of: ‘Let’s risk it all.’ I’m not ready for that. I always said that was never my goal.”
And the hardest part came when he knew he needed to stop.
“You’re sad,” Federer said, “at the very moment you realise, ‘OK, this is the end’.”
The latest procedure on his knee came shortly after a quarter-final loss to Hubert Hurkacz at Wimbledon in July 2021, which will go down in the books as the last singles match in a superlative career that began in the 1990s and included 103 tournament titles, a Davis Cup Championship for Switzerland, Olympic medals and hundreds of weeks at No. 1 in the ATP rankings.
In his online farewell message last week, Federer referred to retirement as a “bittersweet decision”.
He was asked Wednesday at the news conference which aspect was more bitter and which was sweeter.
“The bitterness: you always want to play forever,” he said. “I love being on the court. I love playing against the guys. I love traveling… Everything was perfect. I love my career from every angle.”
He then added: “The sweet part was that I know everyone has to do it at some point; everyone has to leave the game. It’s been a great, great journey. For that, I’m very grateful.”
He will play doubles for Team Europe against Team World on Day 1 of the event, then make way for 2021 Wimbledon runner-up Matteo Berrettini in singles over the weekend. That plan was led by the ATP and the captains of both teams, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, Federer said.
“I grew up watching him, cheering him on, trying to learn from him,” Berrettini said. “His charisma, his class, everything he brought to tennis on and off the court will be missed.”
Other Laver Cup players echoed those sentiments, such as 2021 French Open runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas (“My biggest memory of him is seeing him lift trophies at almost every Grand Slam he played when I was a kid.” ) or the US Open semifinalist. Frances Tiafoe (“I don’t think we’ll see another guy like Roger: the way he played, the grace with which he played it and who he is as an individual”).
One last hurrah for Fe-dal
As for Federer’s doubles partner for the last hurrah? Federer didn’t say definitively, he said he depends on Borg, but the not-so-hidden secret is that it is expected to be Nadal, who holds the men’s record 22 major championships.
While other Federer contemporaries and sports stars are on Team Europe, such as 21-time Slam champion Novak Djokovic and three-time Grand Slam winner Andy Murray, the matchup between Federer and Nadal will go down in history as one of the greatest rivalries in tennis or any other sport.
They met 40 times in total (Nadal won 26), with 14 Grand Slam clashes (Nadal won 10). Nadal emerged victorious in his classic 2008 Wimbledon final, considered by some to be the greatest match in history; Federer won his last meeting, in the 2019 semi-finals at the All England Club.
“It could be quite a, I don’t know, one-off situation, if it happened,” Federer said of the doubles pair.
As for his future?
The father of two sets of twins, 13-year-old girls; 8-year-olds, he wouldn’t say exactly what he has planned, apart from a vacation, but he did say that he would stay connected to tennis in some way.
Recalling the way Borg stayed away from the sport for years after retiring, Federer tried to reassure his own fans by saying: “I will not be a ghost.”