"I have to see when the time has come to end my professional career," Roger Federer wrote on Instagram on Thursday, triggering numerous breaking news stories around the world. The Swiss is now 41 years old and has not been one of the best in his sport for a long time. His last Grand Slam victory was almost five years ago, he won his last tournament when Corona was still a type of beer for most. Nevertheless, an era comes to an end on this day, a sports career like no other is or will be.
Roger Federer is considered by many, including the author of these lines, to be the GOAT, the greatest of all time, of tennis. Although he no longer holds the record for most Grand Slam victories, his eternal competitors Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have overtaken him by one and two wins respectively. But as my esteemed colleague Tim Sohr wrote here in a very similar place in 2018: Its importance cannot be measured in numbers.
Federer has dominated this sport for years in a way that stands out from all the big names in tennis. He has always inspired with his way of playing, with the feathery steps, the elegant swing. It always looked so easy with him, it's a well-worn phrase, but if anyone deserves it, it's him. He destroyed the competition on the pitch for years, often looking like he hadn't even started a sweat. He always freed himself from hopeless situations. If the opponent had already switched off because he thought the point was safe for him. But Federer still came up with something. He got the most impossible balls and turned them into incredible winners. Youtube is full of these rallies, countless cuts of shots only he could do.
Even in the bitter moments, he retained his character and always showed himself to be a fair loser. After all, he had to finish eleven of his 31 Grand Slam finals as second winner. Then he paid tribute to his opponent Nadal, for example, when he had defeated him again. Unforgettable was the battle of Wimbledon in 2008, two clean sheets behind, but then fought back and ended up losing 7 to 9 in the fifth. The disappointment was written all over his face, but not only that. Even in such moments, he radiated honest, appreciative joy for his opponent's performance and success. Because he was and is always a fair sportsman.
So also off the court. One might think that anyone who dominates a sport for so long has to take off. And who would have blamed him? Anyone who plays like that is allowed to be a bit arrogant. But not Federer. He sneaked modestly, sometimes almost shy-looking about the tour. Eurosport commentator Matthias Stach reported how Federer always treated everyone responsible, from the tournament director to the referee to the ball boy, as equals.
Also because he himself started as a ball boy in Basel, as he writes in his farewell post. He observed and admired the great players back then. Probably without being able to imagine how over the next few years he became one of them and eventually the greatest of them all. The biggest with the smallest ego.