Farewell to FedEx
- Published in the Edge, October 3, 2022
The Laver Cup 2022: Roger’s final competitive tennis match
As one can imagine, the atmosphere was electric. This was no ordinary tennis tournament. The Laver Cup itself is unique, the tennis version of golf’s Ryder Cup, where the best of Europe plays against the best of the World in a team format. There had been four Laver Cup tournaments before, however this one was different. This one was special. Really special. This one was Roger Federer’s swan song, his last competitive tournament. The dreaded day for tennis fans had finally arrived.
I could hardly believe my ears when I heard Federer’s retirement announcement on social media. (“Whaaaat?”). It was a heartfelt announcement (all 4 minutes and 53 seconds of it), recorded in the company of his parents and wife Mirka, and sent through to the world like a lightning bolt flashing across a clear blue sky - “The Laver Cup next week in London will be my final ATP event.” At 41, after playing more than 1,500 matches over 24 years, 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer has finally called time on his illustrious career, and as a long-time admirer of this incredible tennis player (and person), I still have not quite come to terms of his retirement.
Everyone knew the time would come, “but that will be in a few years” I kept telling myself whenever the subject arose. When I purchased tickets to this year’s Laver Cup early in March, I was sure Federer would make his first foray back to competitive tennis at this tournament after recovering from his knee injuries. After all, he won his last Grand Slam title in Australia in 2018 at the age of 36. “He’s still got it” I would say to myself. Little did I know that it would in fact be his last.
Last Dance at Laver Cup 2022
Perhaps it is fitting for Federer to end his career at the Laver Cup instead of at any other tournament where he would likely be alone on the court and could very well have been knocked out in the early rounds. At the Laver Cup, a three-day tournament, Federer would be surrounded by his European teammates and his childhood idol Bjorn Borg (captain of Team Europe and 11-time Grand Slam winner). Even his opponents (Team World players captained by another tennis legend seven-time Grand Slam winner John McEnroe) will be there with Federer to honour his incredible career and achievements. Best of all, on the court, he will have at his side his greatest rival Rafael Nadal,36, as his partner for a final doubles match of his career - reunited for another “Fedal” performance the whole tennis world would surely cherish and fondly remember.
London is a special place for Federer as the home of Wimbledon as well as the season-ending ATP Finals (from 2009 -2020) at the 02 Arena where this year’s Laver Cup was held from Sept 23 to 25. Pictures on social media show Federer dressed in classy suits and tuxedos with his fellow teammates and opponents for Laver Cup promotions, clearly enjoying himself and his time with all the players. In a press conference with his greatest rivals and Laver Cup teammates, Federer said “Sitting here, it feels good that I go first from the guys. It just feels right”.
Even before Federer’s retirement announcement, this year’s Laver Cup was going to be special. For the very first time, the Big Four (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray) would be playing together on the same side, possibly for the last time. “Competitors become teammates”, ads promoting the event would say. And the Big Four have been fierce competitors at opposite sides of the tennis court, pushing each other and their limits, elevating their games to greater heights, testing their mental strength and physical endurance. Now they were on the same team. It was a unique thrill in previous Laver Cup matches to see Federer or Nadal give each other tips on the court. What advice do champions offer one another when they are on the same team? The Laver Cup brings out this side of camaraderie for the world to see.
In the inaugural Laver Cup in Prague in 2017, Federer and Nadal sent tennis fans into a frenzy when they partnered in doubles together for the very first time. And for those who watched, who can forget the sight of Nadal jumping into Federer’s arms in rapt celebration of Federer winning the final singles match and team Europe’s first Laver Cup? Seeing these two great champions and rivals playing together, coaching each other, and celebrating together is to me one of the greatest gifts the Laver Cup has given to the tennis world. Fast forward to September 2022, Federer and Nadal teamed up again for doubles, this time against the American pair of Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe. And although the “Fedal” duo held a match point, they eventually lost the match 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 11-9.
What followed is surely one of the most celebrated farewell tributes in tennis. This is the story of a Swiss ball boy who turned into one of the greatest tennis players in the history of the sport (and arguably the most beloved and admired among tennis fans). As the MC Jim Courier (four-time Grand Slam winner) called on Federer to join him to say a few words, the O2 Arena erupted into loud cheers of appreciation and thunderous applause from the adoring crowd. Federer, obviously deeply emotional, said that he was happy, not sad for this incredible journey he has had as a professional tennis player. He thanked everyone, his teammates, opponents, captains Borg and McEnroe, and especially the fans who had stood behind him throughout his career. He wanted it to feel like a celebration at the end, and admitted he got exactly what he had hoped for. Emotions overflowed as he expressed his thank yous to everyone, acknowledging especially his parents, his wife Mirka and their children - twin girls Charlene and Myla (age 13), and twin boys Leo and Lennart (age 8) - for always supporting him and allowing him to continue on his tennis journey.
Over the next two days, he continued to support his teammates from the sidelines, offering his advice whenever he felt it was needed. The Laver Cup is a team event, and Federer proudly remarked that he is, after all, a team player at heart. Although disappointed that his Team Europe lost 8-13 against Team World, he was gracious in defeat, congratulating Team World and Captain McEnroe, and displaying the kind of sportsmanship that Federer has always been highly regarded for. I believe he will continue to inspire the next generation of players with his respect and sportsmanship toward everyone, especially his opponents.
The Laver Cup moves to Vancouver, Canada next year. Although Federer will no longer be active in the professional tennis tour, he assured fans that he would be there for the sixth installment of the Laver Cup to support both teams, albeit in a different position. I take comfort in the fact that we will still see him playing a part in the tennis community, and I will (eventually) come to terms with Federer stepping away. Just not quite yet.
Federer’s final words in his retirement announcement were:
“Finally to the game of tennis. I love you. And will never leave you.”
Thank you, Roger Federer - for everything you have given to the game of tennis and for touching millions of people’s lives the way you did, with your tennis, sportsmanship, humility, and philanthropy. One era has ended, time for the next to begin! I cannot wait to see what you have in store for tennis fans in the - hopefully very near- future.
Roger the Tennis Maestro
One may (almost) forgive a non-tennis fan for asking “Why all the fuss over Federer?” Over the years, he has enthralled tennis followers with his technique and skill in wielding his racquet. Federer personified “the beautiful game of tennis”. The smooth effortless service motion and accuracy seemed to allow him to hit any spot in the service box at will. His swashbuckling forehand, generating amazing speed and spin, always seemed to confound his opponents. His exquisite movement and footwork, displaying a kind of balletic elegance, enabled him to cover all areas of the court with relative ease. His volleys, slightly underrated but hit with an amazing touch that even John McEnroe or Stephan Edberg would be envious of. And then there is the backhand - his one-handed backhand that stood out in a tennis world of mostly two back-handers. His backhand down-the-line passing shot was immaculate. A quick flick of the wrist and the direction of the ball would change at the last second, and leave his opponent wrong-footed.
When asked, Federer rated his consistency at the top as one of his greatest achievements. It has been said that Federer is the most complete player in tennis with his all-court versatility and style of play. Although some may disagree with this, especially when comparing with the likes of Djokovic and Nadal, I take the view that Federer is the game’s most gifted player.
Nadal his greatest rival
Who can forget the 2008 Wimbledon tennis men’s tennis final between Federer and Nadal, regarded by many to be the “greatest game of tennis” ever played. Federer (then world No. 1) was chasing his sixth consecutive Wimbledon title against Nadal (then world No.2) who had lost to Federer the previous two finals at Wimbledon. In fading daylight, the younger player won the final set 9-7 in four hours and 48 minutes of scintillating tennis, winning his first Wimbledon trophy.
The rivalry between these two tennis greats has captivated fans the world over. You were either in the Federer camp, or Nadal’s, on the Federer Express or with “El Matador”. They have played each other 40 times, with Nadal leading the overall head-to-head tally 24-16. From 2006 to 2008, they competed in every Wimbledon and French Open final. Their contrasting styles and personalities fascinated all who watched. Federer, the cool Swiss, with the elegant tennis strokes against Nadal, the loud Spaniard, with the explosive style of play and ferocious spin. The righty versus the lefty (Federer plays right-handed, Nadal left-handed).
Their first match was at the 2004 Miami Open, where Nadal surprised Federer and beat him in straight sets. Since then, Nadal had always troubled Federer with his high, looping topspin shot to Federer’s one-handed backhand. In the 2017 Australian Open, where they met for a record ninth Grand Slam final, Federer visibly raised the level of his backhand and effectively neutralized Nadal’s high, topspin shots, winning the final set 6-3. Reflecting on the incredible rivalry and epic matches between these two tennis greats, its somewhat sad to know that this has ended with Federer’s retirement. But time moves on, and so must we. However, the memories of this great rivalry will last forever in tennis history.
The magic of Federer extends far beyond the court. Just as his tennis legacy will live on, so will his philanthropic ventures. In 2003, Federer established the RF Foundation to help disadvantaged children and promote access to education and sport in South Africa and Switzerland (rogerfedererfoundation.org). For the last 18-plus years, over 1.98 million children have been benefitting from better quality education, owing to the great efforts of the RF Foundation. Federer has a strong connection to South Africa, where his mother, Lynette, is from. He has also established the “Match for Africa” series of tennis exhibition matches to raise money for the foundation. There had been six editions of the “Match for Africa”, where Federer faced Nadal (twice), alongside fellow tennis players Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray, Jack Sock and John Isner. In the sixth installment (2020), Federer played against Nadal in Cape Town. The exhibition drew more than 50,000 people to the match in South Africa and raised over $3.5 million for the foundation. I have no doubt Federer will carry on the important work of raising money for the RF Foundation in the years to come.
It is going to be interesting to see what’s next for Roger Federer, or rather, what Roger Federer has in store for us. Besides his RF Foundation, he is an investor, ambassador and even product designer of the Swiss shoe brand On, known for its comfortable running shoes. He reportedly invested $54 million in the company a few years ago and has actively participated in product development, coming out with his own line of shoes called “The Roger”.
In an interview leading to the Laver Cup, he must have raised several eyebrows at the BBC when he mentioned that the topic of commentary popped up several months ago and “maybe specifically commenting on some games in Wimbledon, for example.” He feels it is important for past players to be around to offer their insights, and that commentating is a good way to keep in touch with the tour and the players. Federer says, however, that he has no plans and are keeping things open. One other possibility is that he would love to go and play in places he has not been to before, to say “thank you” to his fans that have been so supportive of him through the years. In any case, “I just wanted to let the fans know that I will not be a ghost,” he said. That’s good enough for me.
Trivia and Fun facts
As many know, his accolades in tennis are many: 20-time Grand Slam winner. 8 Wimbledon crowns, the highest so far for men. However here are other trivia on Federer you may find interesting:
Number of grand slam singles finals reached? 31 (won 20, lost 11)
Who has beaten him the most times in grand slam finals? Nadal at 6 times (4 French Opens, 1 Wimbledon, 1 Australian Open).
Who was the only person (not named Djokovic or Nadal) to have beaten him in a Grand Slam singles final? Juan Martin Del Potro (2009 US Open)
Who was the first player to beat him in a grand slam final? Nadal (2006 French Open)
Who was the last player to beat him in a grand slam final? Djokovic (2019 Wimbledon)
Number of consecutive semi-final and quarter-final grand slam appearances? 23 and 36 respectively.
Number of consecutive Grand Slam finals appearances? 10 - the longest streak by any male player.
Other fun facts:
· He is one of 8 men to have won a career Grand Slam (winning all four majors at least once).
· He is the only male player to win five consecutive US Open titles (2004–08).
· Borg and Federer are the only 2 players who have won the most consecutive Wimbledon titles (5 in a row).
· He is the oldest ATP world No.1 at 36 years, 320 days in 2018.
· He is one of only 4 men to have won both the junior and senior Wimbledon titles (the others being Bjorn Borg, Pat Cash and Stephan Edberg).