09.18.22: Federer retires

Roger Federer, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, announced this week that he was retiring.

Roger Federer of Switzerland moves for a backhand in the 2014 Western & Southern Open tennis tournament, Mason, Ohio.

Goodbye to one of the greatest tennis players

Tech specs

  • Date/time: Aug 13, 2014 3:53 PM   
  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D
  • Lens: EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM +1.4x 
  • Focal length: 420mm
  • Aperture: f/4
  • Shutter: 1/4000 second
  • ISO: 400

A quiet Thursday morning last week was destroyed by an announcement from tennis great Roger Federer of Switzerland.

“To my tennis family and beyond,

“Of all the gifts that tennis has given me over the years, the greatest, without a doubt, has been the people I've met along the way: my friends, my competitors, and most of all the fans who give the sport its life. Today, I want to share some news with all of you.

“As many of you know, the past three years have presented me with challenges in the form of injuries and surgeries. I've worked hard to return to full competitive form. But I also know my body's capacities and limits, and its message to me lately has been clear. I am 41 years old. I have played more than 1500 matches over 24 years. Tennis has treated me more generously than I ever would have dreamt, and now I must recognize when it is time to end my competitive career.”

The announcement came as a surprise to many, but it shouldn’t have. The likelihood was remote that Federer would return to greatness after not playing competitively since the Wimbledon quarterfinals in July 2021 and undergoing three surgeries on his right knee. Returning at any level below greatness isn’t in Federer’s DNA.

He won 20 majors, once considered an unachievable accomplishment until he surpassed the previous record of 14 held by Pete Sampras and kept going. Now he is third on the all-time list behind rivals Rafael Nadal (22) and Novak Djokovic (21). He won 82 percent of his matches, an incredible measure of his consistency. He was ranked as World No. 1 for 310 weeks, including an astonishing 237 weeks in a row from February 2004 until August 2008. And he reached No. 1 again in 2018 when he was approaching 37 years old, making him the oldest No. 1 ever.

But the numbers only tell part of the story.

I’ve watched Federer play in person probably a dozen times. I’ve watched him play on television countless times. What I will remember is how he appeared to glide on the court, never seeming to exert much energy but always being in position to return whatever shot his opponents fired at him. He never seemed to sweat.

He played with an elegance not seen in today’s tennis environment that tends to favor brute force and obvious athletic effort, although Federer is an excellent athlete who added power to his game to compete with the new generation of players. But he kept the elegance.

A number of times I watched Federer hit a great shot with a seemingly impossible geometry. My first thought would be “How the heck did he hit that shot?” That would be quickly followed by “How the heck did he even think of hitting that shot?”

He was one of a kind.

I view Federer as a transitional player, one who started with a style reminiscent of an earlier generation of tennis stars, like Rod Laver, Stan Smith, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, then added more power to his repertoire to compete with younger, more brute-force and athletic players like Nadal and Djokovic.

Because of that, I will still consider Federer to be the greatest of all time, no matter how many majors others collect.

Federer will retire from competitive tennis after participating in the Laver Cup in London from Sept. 23-25 as part of Team Europe. After that he’ll be able to spend time with his wife, his twin daughters and his twin sons.

Happy retirement, Roger Federer.

He played with an elegance not seen in today’s tennis environment that tends to favor brute force and obvious athletic effort, although Federer is an excellent athlete who added power to his game to compete with the new generation of players. But he kept the elegance.

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