Roger Federer, who today announced his intention to retire at the Laver Cup this month, is the benchmark to which every tennis champion — past or present — is measured, and a true global ambassador who transcended the sport.
In a career of jaw-dropping achievement, the Swiss was not only exciting to watch in the efficiency and beauty of his execution, but at the height of his powers in his quest for historic records, Federer was a perfectionist. His own game not only evolved in 25 seasons as a professional, but he also forced his rivals — many of whom had a Federer poster on their bedroom walls — to improve, too.
Federer’s longevity was centred on the fact that not only could he play superbly on every surface, but he combined great fitness with strategy and anticipation. Tennis fans will today reflect upon his legacy and periods of dominance, notably his record 237 consecutive weeks at No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings from 2 February 2004 to 17 August 2008 and how he also reached a record 23 consecutive Grand Slam semi-finals from 2004 Wimbledon to the 2010 Roland Garros semi-finals (winning 20 of them).
But there was also his dedication, commitment, and desire to not only stay ahead of his fellow professionals, but to evolve every aspect of his game. Throughout his illustrious career, Federer brought in the likes of specialist coaches, such as Tony Roche, Stefan Edberg, and Ivan Ljubicic, to join his established and trusted team. Federer went on to develop his serve strategy, the way he volleyed and how his single-handed backhand improved to combat his greatest rivals, notably Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
Roger Federer with Tiger Woods at the 2006 US Open
Federer led a golden age for men’s professional tennis. Every match against Nadal (16-24) or Djokovic (23-27) popularised and attracted new fans to the sport for must-see and several never-to-be-forgotten encounters on the sport’s grandest stages. Yet it was Federer’s relentless hunger, in the face of all-time competition, that remained undimmed and helped him memorably lift 10 trophies on home soil in Basel and Halle’s grass, and eight at The Championships, Wimbledon. His example became the hallmark of modern professionalism.
Consistency enabled Federer to reach the summit for the final time aged 36 in June 2018, thus increasing his weeks at No. 1 to 310 (only surpassed by Djokovic last year), and also helped the Swiss add to his Grand Slam tally to a then-record 20 singles titles, among 103 tour-level trophies. His longevity, highlighted by 968 weeks in the Top 10 between 20 May 2002 and 11 October 2021, also enabled him to hit 1,151 match wins (to date) – just shy of Jimmy Connors records of 109 crowns and 1,274 match wins.
As big a champion Federer was on the court, he had just a big an impact off it, using his global appeal positively. When he started his six-year tenure as President of the ATP Player Council (2008-2014), he highlighted the need for tennis to keep pace with other sports. With his legacy already assured, he was able to promote the causes of every player on the professional ladder and helped usher in a new era of financial success and restructuring for the ATP Tour.
Roger Federer clinches his 1000th match win Brisbane in 2015.
Federer’s demeanour and gracious nature, saw him become what Pele is to football and Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods are to golf. Federer won the ATPTour.com Fans’ Favourite Award every year from 2003 to 2021 and the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award on 13 occasions. Able to converse in multiple languages, he also used his reach to make a huge impact as a philanthropist and a fundraiser of millions for charities and his own foundation, which supports community-driven initiatives to improve education in Southern Africa and Switzerland.
In 1,526 singles matches and 223 doubles matches, Federer remarkably never retired from a match – even after knee surgeries curtailed his on-court appearances in recent years. But now, at 41 years of age, 14 months on from his last match at Wimbledon, the superstar is set to call time on a historic chapter. While his focus will be on his family, wife Mirka, and their two sets of growing twins, he is likely to remain involved in the game and said that he would still take to the court. “I will play more tennis in the future, of course, but just not in Grand Slams or on the Tour,” he said in his retirement announcement.
One this is certain: Federer will be forever remembered so long as the sport of tennis is played.