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Farewell Federer, the best tennis player to touch the court. You’re GOAT beyond numbers

With 20 Grand Slams, 103 ATPs, 24 years, Roger Federer changed tennis from a game of power to one of grace.

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On 15 September, sports enthusiasts across the world woke up to a momentous occasion in tennis history — Roger Federer announced his retirement on Twitter with a farewell note. The upcoming Laver Cup, to be held from 23 to 25 September, will be his last tournament. This is the second high-profile retirement announcement to have come out of tennis this year with Serena Williams also calling it a day.

It’s not a surprise, though. Federer, 41, hadn’t played a single tournament since the 2021 Wimbledon quarterfinals in which he lost to Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz in straight sets. After that, he underwent multiple knee surgeries. It was becoming more and more evident that a strong return is wishful.

Rumours of Federer’s retirement have been rife for over 13 years — he hasn’t played in more than a year, he has all the accomplishments any sports person would dream of, and yet, this announcement has come as a jolt. It’s another discomforting change in a world that’s been desperately seeking stability. And Federer had evolved into that ‘institution’ of stability.

The undisputed GOAT — Greatest of All Time — in men’s tennis will be very soon laying his racquet to rest. Records will be made, and they will be broken. We already have two players with more men’s Grand Slam titles than Federer — Spain’s Rafael Nadal and Serbia’s Novak Djokovic — but even they would wish they played like Federer.

Also read: Not work ethic, fighting spirit or tenacity, Nadal’s ability to ‘handle’ injury sets him apart

The Federer dance

Anyone who doesn’t believe in magic hasn’t watched Roger Federer play.

Federer on the court is poetry. His footwork makes it look like he glides around. And the powerful forehand he delivers with his hands almost locked looks like Federer only grazed the ball and magic happened. He makes tennis look like art.

But putting in that kind of passion wasn’t a joyride for the Swiss player — he was known to be a snobbish, high-headed player with an attitude problem. Federer had to let go of a lot of anger and find the patience and dedication to reach the level he’s playing at today. But after more than a two-decade-long journey, Roger is loved like a saint in the tennis world. And the tennis champion has also had his share of racquet-breaking moments. He’s not the best at hiding emotions — a crying Federer at the end of trophy ceremonies brought out the human side of this god-like figure.

My favourite Federer forehand shot is from the 2015 ATP World Tour Finals (Basel, Switzerland) against Rafael Nadal in the first set where the latter had the advantage to break the former’s serve. As Nadal played on the net, Federer had to retreat to the baseline. It looked like Nadal was commanding the rally and Federer looked like his body was three inches away from the ball — too far away to take the volley. But the tennis professional bent masterfully and played a powerful forehand shot. Nadal was dumbstruck, not knowing what to do.

His forehand had great spin too, which allowed him to pull the ball back into the baseline by hitting it from outside the net and landing it to win a point for him.

Federer’s game is a delight to watch. Tennis would’ve been so much poorer had he not graced the court. Federer has elevated tennis from a game of power to one of grace. He makes it look easy. On the court, he dances, and the viewers sway with him.

At his best, Federer’s dominance feels almost spilling out of the screen. He has made his opponents run, slip, pant, and beg for mercy while playing like it was meditation, knowing precisely what to do.

It’s a game that comes naturally to him, something he expressed immense gratitude to God for, “I was given a special talent to play tennis, and I did it at a level I never imagined, for much longer than I ever thought possible,” he wrote in his farewell note.

The way Federer serves is a treat. He never lets his opponents know where the ball is coming from, so they retreat further back to the baseline than what’s usual. He has won around 88.8 per cent of service games of his career — a statistical marvel.

Also read: 17 years ago, I fell in love with the ‘phoenix of tennis’. Rafael Nadal is more than a player

Federer-Nadal rivalry 

Roger Federer has had the mightiest rivals throughout his career: Argentina’s David Nalbandian who beat him five times straight when they first met each other on the court, Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt, US’ Andy Roddick, and Djokovic.

But perhaps nothing comes close to the Federer-Nadal rivalry — in any sport in the world.

These two players actually showed the world what a sports rivalry is like, and how mutual admiration, respect and love, even friendship shape it.

Nadal and Federer first went up against each other in the 2004 Miami Open when the former defeated the latter in straight sets. Since then, they have come head-to-head 40 times with Nadal leading with 24 to 16 wins.

One of their most memorable moments is a behind-the-scenes shot from a video they were shooting to promote their charity match. At an inside joke, the two literally fall off their chairs laughing. Two professionals who are not blood-thirsty rivals? Well, here’s a first!

Nadal was the player who kept Federer from winning the Roland Garros, also known as The French Open, for the longest time. He also didn’t let Federer break Björn Borg’s record by winning Wimbledon titles six times in a row in 2008 in what would go down as one of the most legendary tennis matches ever played. And yet, there seems to be no off-the-court rivalry.

The sweetest moment between the two has to be Federer crying after losing the 2009 Australian Open to Nadal, and the latter consoling the former, bringing him back to finish his speech.

But perhaps the greatest loss of Federer’s career was the 2019 Wimbledon finals against Novak Djokovic. That’s when Djokovic stole a potential 21st Grand Slam from Federer from under his nose. A four-hour-57-minute-long match, it stretched to the fifth set tie break.

Federer was serving for the tournament 8-7, 40-15 in the deciding set, the crowd was in his favour, and yet he lost the match with Djokovic playing the best of his career-emerging victorious.

But it’s not like all the greatest matches of Federer’s life have resulted in loss. Perhaps the fondest memory of tennis in Federer’s mind would be defeating reigning champion Pete Samprass in the 2001 Wimbledon quarterfinals. Wimbledon shared Federer’s post-match interview from 2001 yesterday.

Twenty-four years. Twenty Grand Slams. A hundred and three ATP titles. Millions of fans. Only one Roger Federer.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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