Roger Federer had to eventually cease playing tennis professionally due to wear and tear brought on by time and normal human activity. Here is a man who first won Wimbledon two months after Carlos Alcaraz was born and was winning grand slam competitions before the iPhone was created, while Tony Blair was still the extremely popular prime minister.
Even still, it still seems shocking, careless, or like a rumor that got out of hand that Federer, who is absurdly old at 41, plans to retire now. Is everyone genuinely confident about this?
When a champion exits the stage, it is often tempting to declare that we have seen the last of them and that the chapter is now over. It is also easy to indulge in excessive mawkish viking funeral guff, to sink in cloying sweetness, to view every departure as a tug from Paddington Bear, and to draw the conclusion that sports life will never be the same again.
Both of these solutions seem suitable in this particular situation. With Federer’s retirement, one common era has somewhat come to an end.
At the same time, his departure also brings to a close a more intimate era since, even in this illustrious company, Federer stood out as the best player during the pinnacle of men’s tennis. The best tennis player of all time, by extension, and without any reasonable justification for disagreement – the term reasonable must mean a lot in this context.
The fact that Nadal and Djokovic have already overtaken Federer in terms of total grand slam victories is evidence of their respective prowess. The foundation of Nadal’s 22 victories at Roland Garros is his invincibility there. A fellow all-court specialist, Djokovic is one ahead of the pack with 21.
They have served as a triple-godhead, circling the sporting world like mobile one-man city states, and have been the most alluring source of entertainment, revenue, and simple relentlessness. Why are these guys the way they are? Do people ever get tired of recognizing themselves in that pewter surface?
Evidently, no. In May 2003, Juan Carlos Ferrero triumphed in the French Open, the final grand slam competition of the old world. A month after winning his maiden match at Wimbledon, Federer—who was a year younger—would go on to win 12 of his next 18 starts from a standing start. Nadal eventually joined him. Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic have dominated the sport in an extraordinary level of joint devastation throughout the years leading up to Wimbledon this year.
Now 35 years old, Djokovic is still in excellent shape but is occasionally sidetracked by Covid issues, culture war clamor, and overall magic energy truther behavior. Nadal is 36 years old and is kept together by glue, staples, and string. There is clearly a sense that something is ending and the age of giants is departing with Serena Williams’ retirement as well.
And Federer was undoubtedly the best of the bunch. We know this because Nadal and Djokovic were excellent enough to raise every match along the road, creating such a beautifully more-ish difference in style, manner, and execution. These two great players were playing the same game in the same venue, but in a way that somehow never really seemed natural.
And with Federer, excellence was equally about texture, shape, and elegance. His ability had the impression of being something that was never fully finished. One never felt they reached Federer’s potential limitations, not even during the match’s most intense pitch. If you ever feel like trying it again, Rog, there is definitely still some in there.
It is appropriate that a player of Alcaraz’s potential should achieve his first significant accomplishment the same week that Federer makes his exit. Other champions and greater talent are always available. Federer’s future as a coach or a peripheral character in a tracksuit looks doubtful from here on out. He has a legacy and millions.
The fact that Federer is an average man from an ordinary hamlet who just so happens to possess this talent and this tremendous sports charisma is another thing that makes him exceptional. These characteristics have only existed within those white lines and will continue to be just as vivid.