We live in a time when the expected has surprised. There is always an end in life. Always We know this. We anticipate this. We try to prepare for it. But when a chapter is inevitably forced to close over time, the reality of it all still strikes like a thunderclap.
Roger Federer would not play tennis forever. At 41 and after suffering one injury after another in recent years, the sand was quickly falling to the bottom of the hourglass. Even great champions retire.
But, like Serena Williams, Federer changed the expected arc of a tennis player’s career. In their fourth decades they continued to accumulate titles and break records, consolidating their greatness. In the fifties, both were, incredibly, still present.
While the length of their tenure allowed us to appreciate their talents, to savor each championship and each passing year, it also lulled us into a false sense of security, making us believe they would always be there, even if injuries led to long absences in recent years. They would come back. They always came back.
Federer won the first of 20 grand slams in 2003, when people were excited about the latest Nokia phone, and before the United States and the United Kingdom started the war in Iraq. A professional career of 24 years, Federer became a constant in our sports life. While we were all – quietly and slowly – aging, there Federer was still playing, still winning, still defying time, fooling us into believing that neither the world nor us have changed. that a lot
But on Thursday, two weeks after Williams played what would have been her final professional game, we were forced to admit that we were entering a new era.
“I have to admit when it’s time to end my competitive career,” Federer said when he announced he would call time on his career after the Laver Cup in London next week.
“I have worked hard to get back to full competitive form. But I also know the capabilities and limitations of my body, and lately the message has been clear to me.”
The Swiss has not played competitively since last summer’s Wimbledon, after which she underwent a third knee operation and ultimately forced one of tennis’ most incredible careers to end without the flourish it perhaps deserved.
Federer became the first man to accumulate 20 grand slam titles. However, no one has won his eight Wimbledon titles, played as many (429) or won more Grand Slam matches (369). He leaves the sport with 103 titles, second only to Jimmy Connors in the Open Era, and more than $130 million in prize money.
In a five-year span at the turn of the century, when he won 12 of 18 grand slams, Federer redefined the meaning of tennis brilliance in the men’s game.
Many of the outstanding records he set have been broken by Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic, other outstanding talents who would later lead the last 15 years to the golden age of the sport.
Federer spent 310 weeks as world number one; Djokovic has surpassed that feat. Nadal now has 22 major titles, Djokovic 21.
All of Federer’s records are likely to be broken one day, but the numbers only reflect a fraction of Federer’s genius. A Google search of his stats doesn’t reveal his greatness or appeal. He is the man who has won the fans’ favorite award at the year-end ATP Awards for 19 consecutive years.
Federer is praised not only because he won, but because of the way he won, the way he played. No one has approved a court like him. Will we ever see his like again? Perhaps, but it would be some player.
Has there ever been a better forehand in the game? Sweeter behind? More efficient clearance? At least in the men’s game, Williams’ serve is like the best it’s ever been. Has anyone played sports with such beauty?
“It’s like a symphony,” Patrick Mouratoglou, once Williams’ coach, described Federer’s style a few years ago.
“No one will ever play tennis like this, impossible. It’s just perfection. The movement, the timing, everything is perfect and that’s awesome.’
Acclaimed author David Foster Wallace, in his 2006 New York Times essay “Roger Federer as a Religious Experience,” described Federer’s forehand as “a brilliant liquid whip.” The genius of Federer’s game, Wallace explains, was lost on television.
Federer was young when the essay was written, but already, at 25, he was claiming to be the greatest ever, and not just Wallace.
There were good players on the tour, of course, but no one who could consistently match Federer’s shot-making and court smarts. It was so good.
Six years before Wallace’s essay was published, no one thought Pete Sampras’ record of 14 grand slams would be broken; then came Federer, then along with Nadal and Djokovic to form the “Big Three”.
Now, of course, he will say that Nadal has proven that he is the greatest of all time or that Djokovic is a better player. Maybe, maybe
The balance of power may have shifted, but what cannot be denied is that neither Nadal nor Djokovic are as aesthetically pleasing as the Swiss.
Watching Federer play in 3D – and there’s still time to talk about his style at this time – is bound to be mesmerizing. It was, sorry, it’s special, and I was there a moment that can be told and retold to the grandchildren or anyone who will listen. No one has ever made playing sport at the highest level so effortless.
The annals of sports history will place Federer alongside Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Tiger Woods and, of course, Serena Williams. Game changers who transcended their sports, who will be talked about for years after they retire, inspiring one generation after another.
Tennis is entering a new future. Federer will soon retire, Nadal, at 36, is unlikely to play at the same age as his friend and rival, such has been his history with injuries, and Djokovic is 35, still capable of accumulating more major titles, but aging. .
We knew it would happen one day. But, as we know, it takes time to adapt to changes.