For the last time, Roger Federer will feel a knot in his stomach as he faces the long wait before a big match. It’s not a feeling he’ll miss, but at least it’s one he won’t have to do alone. Federer’s retirement from tennis is a historic moment for a sport he helped define, but it won’t be the lonely experience he feared. Instead, at London’s O2 Arena, the city that was the “most special place” of his career, the Laver Cup will host the scene of a sport coming together to bid farewell to perhaps its greatest champion.
It’s fitting, and a career that’s been defined by balance and grace will have a final chapter that strikes the right balance between competition and celebration. That doesn’t mean your decision was an easy one. The allure of a final Wimbledon appearance remained at a distance, and the acceptance that his body could no longer meet the physical and mental demands of a final comeback through injury brought with it the most difficult moments of his decision. Ever since he faced the crossroads and turned the turn, though, it was clear to him that it was the right way.
Federer explained his reasoning in the open letter announcing his retirement, but his subsequent media appearances provided further clarification. The 41-year-old understands the limitations of his body and the impact of playing a final singles match would be too expensive to be worth the risk. His loss in July 2021 to Hubert Hurkacz in the Wimbledon quarterfinals will be the last singles match of his career, as well as the moment reality set in. “The last set was one of the worst hours of my career,” he admitted this week.
For Federer, whose career has been marked by successes and records, as well as the beauty and elegance with which he achieved them, this could not have been the final tone. The Laver Cup lacks the grand slam presence and stage that Serena Williams so wonderfully captured in her own goodbye at the US Open just a few weeks ago, but Federer has made it clear that his career has been as much about people, about interactions as much. on and off the court. He loved the life on tour and that’s why his journey took so long.
So the Laver Cup is a reminder of the lives he touched. His long-standing rivalry with Rafael Nadal, for example, has elevated the sport and has always been helped by the image of a battle between friends and not enemies. Federer teased that his final match in doubles will be played alongside Nadal and the player he has competed against in some of his biggest matches may also share his final cycle. “I think it’s a great message as well not just for tennis, but for sports and maybe even beyond,” Federer said.
Those lucky enough to witness his final farewell will appreciate the sweetness of his groundstrokes and the movement of a serve that gave class and efficiency. That Federer has reached these levels after a career start that was initially erratic, often hot-headed, remains one of his greatest accomplishments. Federer retires in peace with his journey, calm with his decision and with no regrets.
There will still be nerves. Federer hasn’t played in over a year and has set his expectations of being “a little competitive” ahead of his return to the court. There will be no talk of records that could have taken place if Federer had gone to a Grand Slam arena for the last time. With Nadal on 22 titles and Djokovic on 21, his total has been surpassed, but one fact that has become clearer after Federer’s retirement is that his legacy will not be measured in counts or numbers. “You don’t need all the records to be happy; I tell you this,” he said.
Billie Jean King called Federer the “champion of the champion” after his retirement, and the greatest of all time will be where he is. At Wimbledon this summer, as the All England Club celebrated 100 years of Center Court, the noise of the crowd rippled and rose like waves at the emergence of each former winner during their performance. King, Bjorn Bjorg, Andy Murray, Venus Williams, Nadal and Novak Djokovic received a standing ovation, but Federer’s reception surprised them. When he leaves to play his final match along the road at the O2 Arena, he will do so again.