With a security detail to rival that of a president, Roger Federer marched along St Mary’s Walk and into Court 14, crowds in the halls were urged to clear the way for a man rarely seen in such parts of the All England Club.
He was king among his people, in the boondocks by his standards. With a powerful racquet stroke, he might be able to throw a tennis ball onto the roof of center court from here.
It was the second day of the 2015 Wimbledon Championships, a hot Tuesday morning, and Federer needed a warm-up before his opening match against Bosnian Damir Dzumhur, a player he would crush later in the day for the loss of only seven games. This would of course be an assignment to the central court. Invariably, all of Federer’s games take center stage.
Tiny Court 14 can seat a few hundred spectators, perhaps a handful more at a moment’s notice, and whispers had spread to mean many were busy for what was an unannounced practice session, a Federer guerrilla concert. The media had been tipped off a bit in advance, and a glimpse of Federer up close is hard to refuse.
There was a big hint that Federer would arrive when Stefan Edberg – his trainer and childhood idol – showed up several minutes before his charge and began to loosen up, while Wimbledon TV’s Rob Walker stood patiently with a film crew and a stack of notes. , ready to tell the story of the day Federer played where only mere mortals usually walk.
Suddenly more news crews appeared, a stream of day trippers strolling past the low-key court became more like a scrum, and camera phones, ball boys and girls came out for a view, s’ ensuring a close-up. A woman working for IBM smiles from ear to ear. And Federer walked in, dressed head-to-toe in white Nike gear, carrying two Wilson tennis racquets and a cap bearing his RF badge.
A G4S security guard practically bit his lower lip while trying to keep a straight face and simultaneously apply crowd control when Federer walked past him. You don’t smile.
The applause rang out, fans with cheap ground passes cooed at the sight of the seven-time champion at the time. Federer acknowledged the growing crowd.
And for the next half hour, he and Edberg gently put together a light session, rallying from the baseline, these great champions executing the moves that on another day might have gone out of sight. public. It was little more than ego balm before lunch.
And it was just another day in the life of Roger Federer, who has just announced his retirement. He probably forgot everything. Some will remember it all their life.
Edberg takes on real relevance in Federer’s retirement story as they talked together about how to go through the process.
Swedish great Edberg announced his own decision to quit in December 1995, a month before his 30th birthday, and the 1996 season became his farewell tour, celebrated everywhere he went.
But Edberg struggled with his form in that year of farewells and rejoicings, reaching just one final, losing to Boris Becker in the Queen’s Club title match, and he ultimately regretted the hype that followed.
Speaking to The Tennis Podcast in 2020, Edberg explained how he sidelined Federer by following his lead.
“We actually talked about it a bit and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone actually, although it’s a good thing to do, because it puts too much pressure on you and there would be too many things going on in your mind,” Edberg said.
“So if you’re going to announce it, I’ll do it just before my last tournament or I’ll have it in my mind, but nobody else will know. It’s very difficult to manage, but at the same time it was very memorable year, but I wouldn’t recommend it.”
Federer only worked closely with Edberg for two years, but he has such respect and admiration for the man that such advice was sure to have been recorded.
And now the 20-time Grand Slam winner is retiring. Let it sink in.
It will take some getting used to, tennis without Federer. Without his ritual pranks of young upstarts on tour, without his perfect manners, his quasi-aristocratic weaknesses and those deliciously delivered multilingual post-match press conferences. Without Anna Wintour watching adoringly from the royal box. Without Mirka.
“I wanted to be a tennis player or a football player from an early age,” Federer said at Wimbledon a few years ago.
Was there a Wimbledon final that steered him towards tennis?
“I think of the Becker-Edberg final. I don’t remember which year because they played many times. I was sitting at home in the living room, watching them play, thinking that one day I could to be like them, you know,” Federer said.
Edberg and Becker met in back-to-back Wimbledon finals from 1988 to 1990, with the Swede winning the first and last of those matches. It was a great rivalry.
“I guess that’s where idols and inspirations are good. They push you forward,” Federer said. “Then along the way you joke and say it’s getting closer. When you win a practice match, you act like you’ve just won Wimbledon. All of a sudden it’s really happening.”
It “really happened” for Federer in the late 1990s, as he won the boys’ singles at Wimbledon in 1998, beating Georgian Irakli Labadze, and just 12 months later he was one of the Top 100 Players on the Men’s Tour.
But he was also an arsonist as a teenager, something he was forced to explain at Wimbledon in 2001, when 19-year-old Federer first became the center of attention after beating Pete Sampras , champion for the previous four years. in the fourth round.
Federer had been a picture of composure in that match and was asked if he modeled his approach on Pistol Pete.
“Not at all actually. I was throwing my racquet like you probably wouldn’t imagine,” Federer said. “I was kicked out of training sessions all the time when I was 16. Now, since I think this year, I’ve started to relax a bit more on the court.
“I don’t break as many racquets as I used to. I realized that throwing racquets didn’t help my game because I always got very negative.”
When Federer first got his hands on a Grand Slam trophy, it was at Wimbledon in 2003 and he received a prescient question from a journalist who asked him if he could ever emulate seven-time champion Sampras at Wimbledon.
“It’s one of his seven, you know. I’ve come so far,” he said. “I’m just happy to be on set. If I look at all the players who have won here, a lot of them have been idols for me. Just being on set with (Bjorn) Borg and these people, it’s just nice be part of history at Wimbledon.”
Nonetheless, it was the first of five consecutive Wimbledon triumphs for Federer, equaling a Borg record. Legends are created around such exploits; because of the vicarious pleasure he has provided to so many, crowds will always flock to Federer, whether on Center Court, Court 14 or his local food court.
As Federer’s slam pile grew and he edged closer to seven Wimbledon titles and Sampras’ 14 majors, the American great made a promise to his Swiss successor: he’d be there when those records started to fall.
When Federer held off Andy Roddick 16-14 in the fifth set of the 2009 Wimbledon final to go to 15 slams, Sampras was indeed there, despite arriving late.
“It was a bit special,” Federer said. “When he came in and I first saw him, I actually got more nervous. I said hello to him too, which is unusual. But I thought I didn’t mean to be rude. “
And in 2017, nudge 36, Federer triumphed at Wimbledon for an eighth and final time, beating an embarrassing injury to Marin Cilic.
“Winning eight is not something you can aim for, in my opinion,” he said afterwards. “If you’re doing it, you must have so much talent and parents and coaches pushing you from the age of three, who think you’re like a project,” he said. “I wasn’t that kid. I was really a normal guy growing up in Basel, hoping for a career on the tennis circuit.”
In early 2018 he added a sixth Australian Open title to reach 20 slam crowns, a figure beyond anyone’s wildest dream in men’s tennis before the Big Three showed up.
The dispute rages over who was the greatest male tennis star of all time, and whether it should be Federer, Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal of that era who is the main contender for such a nebulous crown.
Federer has a losing head-to-head against his two young rivals, there’s no escaping that fact. He trails Nadal 24-16 and Djokovic 27-23. Both chipped away at his records, taking their fair share. Yet Federer still has the most wins in men’s Open Era matches at Wimbledon (105) and the Australian Open (102), the most Grand Slam wins by a man (369) and the most singles titles on grass in the history of the ATP tour. (19).
He won 103 tournaments, just behind Jimmy Connors (109). He had knee surgery twice in 2020 and returned for more silverware as he believed he could still win, even as he approached his 40th birthday.
Federer is the man who recalibrated the levels players can reach in men’s tennis, the game-changing figurehead that Nadal and Djokovic have been chasing since the start of their magnificent careers.
Without Federer to aim for, Nadal and Djokovic might not have reached such great heights.
Maybe, maybe, maybe…
What is certain is that the Federer era is coming to an end. And that’s the thing with eras, they always end. Sometimes it’s enough to be grateful to have experienced this. Well received?