Federer the balletic, ruthless, goofy, universal icon

The 20-time Grand Slam champion has called time on his majestic career after 24 years at the top.

Roger Federer / Roland-Garros 2019©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

The dreams of a Swiss ball kid came true.

From scuttling after balls on the courts at his home tournament in Basel, to enthralling his millions of fans across the globe during a once-in-a-lifetime career. It could only be Roger Federer.

He’s dominated with a ruthless streak, charmed every audience on and off the court with his goofy charisma, the suave, saunter to his stride has proceeded a multitude of classic moments.

The 41-year-old has made us laugh, cry, drop our jaw in amazement countless times.

A permanent marvel

Back home he’s adored, the first living person in history to have their face on a Swiss Franc coin. Worldwide, he’s simply the ultimate icon, so much so that from 2003-2021 Federer was voted the ATP Fans’ Favourite award winner. Fans, juniors, rivals, celebrities, they all want a snap with Roger.

In the media, the Swiss seamlessly transitioned between three languages in interviews and press conferences, always giving plenty of time and honesty.

Behind the scenes there was clearly a lot of endeavour with his long-term coaching team, but on the match court is where Federer truly marvelled us. Wielding his racket with such grace, the balletic footwork, combined with punchy power and a remarkably underrated metronomic serve. He made this ultra-demanding sport look so effortless.

However, earlier this month the announcement came that the fans were dreading.

“This is a bittersweet decision because I will miss everything the Tour has given me. But at the same time, there is so much to celebrate. I consider myself one of the most fortunate people on Earth,” announced Federer on social media in his retirement post. “I was given a special talent to play tennis, and I did it at a level that I never imagined, for much longer than I ever thought possible.”

How about this for a career.

An incredible and golden longevity

From turning pro in 1998 aged just 16, Federer made his Grand Slam debut the following summer at Roland-Garros. A maiden ATP title was served up in 2001 in Milan, before major glory started to flow at Wimbledon 2003.

That kick-started an astonishing era of dominance, featuring in 13 Grand Slam finals in 2004-2007, lifting the winner’s trophy on 11 occasions. During that spell, Federer was building his legendary status, spending a record 237 consecutive weeks as the world No.1.

Fast forward to 2009 and Federer finally ruled at Roland-Garros, erasing heartache to complete his career Grand Slam on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

The patriotic Swiss was the talisman guiding his nation to glory in the 2014 Davis Cup. The 103-time titlist was also flagbearer at two Olympics, where he picked up a gold medal in doubles alongside close friend Stan Wawrinka at Beijing 2008 and singles silver at London 2012.

Completing his major haul with No.20 at the 2018 Australian Open, Federer has pretty much done it all, significantly without ever retiring from a match. 1,251 singles victories, 275 defeats, just take that in.

“I'm definitely very proud and very happy where I sit,” mused Federer, assessing his spot in the history books. “One of my big moments of course was winning my 15th Slam at Wimbledon (2009) when Pete Sampras was sitting there. Anything after that was a bonus. That was the record and then of course it was other records along the way…”

Roger Federer / Open d'Australie 2018©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

"It's been a great feeling to be part of that group"

30 Guinness World Records to his name include the longest span between Grand Slam singles titles for a male in the Open Era. 2003 to 2018, considering injuries and surgeries too, Federer’s longevity in the ‘Big Four’ era has been miraculous.

“I was famous for being quite erratic at the beginning of my career. To then become one of the most consistent players ever is quite a shock to me,” Federer told reporters recently in London.

“That has been a great accomplishment for me personally, that I have been able to stay at the top for so long and compete for any tournament I would enter and really go out there and say, ‘I hope I can win the tournament’, for 15-plus years.

“I think looking back that has a special meaning to me because I always looked to the Michael Schumacher, Tiger Woods, all the other guys that stayed for so long at the top that I didn't understand how they did it. Next thing you know, you're part of that group, and it's been a great feeling.”

Roger Federer / Wimbledon 2017©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Federer certainly is an integral part of that group together with fellow tennis icon Serena Williams. They were born just 49 days apart, glistened in careers spanning over four decades and then chose to depart from competitive tennis just 21 days apart.

It seems fitting and just kike Serena, Federer has plenty away from the confines of the tennis court to occupy his time.

Four children will keep him busy, as well as his proactive dedication to many charitable causes through his own foundation. Nearly two million children have benefited from the RF Foundation’s programmes, which quotes the Swiss maestro on their website saying; "It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice."

A reunion with Rafa

During his emotional goodbye at the Laver Cup 16,500 fans packed into London’s O2 Arena to witness ‘Fedal’ in doubles action. Long standing rival and now close companion Rafael Nadal teaming up with the Swiss maestro in his last ever competitive match.

A lap of honour, tears flowing fast during the interviews, Federer and Nadal even held hands at one point on the team bench, the realisation that their thrilling tennis journey together has come to a halt.

It was a ‘had to be there moment,’ and what was striking was all three of Federer’s ‘Big Four’ rivals were on his Team Europe squad, all taken aback by the emotion of the night.

"I think we would all agree that this was one of the most beautiful moments that everyone has experienced live or on the TV, the tennis courts worldwide of all-time,” claimed Novak Djokovic, up 27-23 in their head-to-head record. "It was one of the most beautiful moments I've ever experienced in my life.”

Roger Federer & Rafael Nadal / Laver Cup 2022©Antoine Couvercelle / FFT

As for Nadal, another gladiator in these epic modern-day rivalries, it was time for some poignant words.

“When Roger leaves the tour an important part of my life is leaving too because all the moments that he have been next or in front me in important moments of my life,” stated the Spaniard, edging their match record at 24-16.

“When I arrive on the tour, and when I started to be better player, then was Roger always there in front of me. For me was always the guy to beat.

“So at some point we were probably the biggest rivals - I think always in a very good way. We respect a lot each other, families, teams.

“On court we have completely opposite styles, and that's what probably makes our matches and our rivalry probably one of the biggest and most interesting.

“Very proud to be part of his career in some way. But even for me happier to finish our career like friends after everything we shared on court like rivals.”

Not a final goodbye

We’re all certainly going to miss those era-defining rivalries, for Federer he’s going to miss the Tour, the destinations, the fans, but he’s content it’s time to turn the page.

“Now, moving forward, it's going to be different but good different. I got a taste of it the last few years, so I'll be fine,” joked Federer, referring to recent stints on the sidelines.

Fortunately, it’s not a final goodbye, at some point Federer will be back in tennis in some capacity; “To the game of tennis: I love you and will never leave you.”

Until that return, we’ll reflect on the Swiss maestro, whose spellbinding craft changed the tennis landscape forever.

Roger Federer / Laver Cup 2022©Antoine Couvercelle / FFT