MIKE DICKSON: Roger Federer graced tennis with unrivalled style

MIKE DICKSON: Roger Federer graced tennis with unrivalled style, drew crowds in the thousands and always had a smile for his fellow players… the game will not be the same following his and Serena Williams’ retirement

  • Roger Federer confirmed his retirement from professional tennis on Thursday
  • The Swiss legend will finish his career at the Laver Cup in London next week
  • Federer won 20 Grand Slams during his career including eight at Wimbledon
  • His retirement will follow that of Serena Williams, who bowed out at the US Open

Roger Federer was the man who always had a smile for fellow players but was never afraid to humiliate them on court if absolutely necessary.

Feliciano Lopez, a close contemporary and veteran of twenty years on tour, once related that nobody could blow you away in quite the same manner.

‘You feel helpless against him. He does things that nobody is able to do, especially the way he improvises,’ observed the Spaniard.

All-time great Roger Federer announced his retirement from professional tennis on Thursday

This has been at the heart of the Federer dichotomy. Supremely polished and easygoing away from the court, a ruthless competitor upon it who hated losing as much as anyone.

Lopez was one of many who found themselves on the wrong end of the freakish talent possessed by the Swiss. With an almost balletic poise he could deliver winners from almost anywhere, and land his serve with laser-guided precision.

That is until age and knee injuries finally proved insuperable, the confirmation of which he delivered this afternoon.

Born within 49 days of Serena Williams, the two of them have signalled their departures less than two weeks apart, and tennis will never be quite the same again.

The 41-year-old won 20 Grand Slam titles throughout his career including eight at Wimbledon

Federer’s last official appearance will be in next week’s Laver Cup team event at London’s 02 Arena, across the city from the suburb of SW19 where he first became a Grand Slam champion, 19 years ago.

When he used to play in the ATP Finals at the 02, it became known as Zurich-on-Thames, such was the incredible support he drew there, and not just from hordes of travelling or expatriate Swiss fans.

ATP tournament officials would tell you that if ticket sales were ever sluggish for a session they would put Federer in that slot, and within half an hour it would sell out.

His appeal stretched way beyond where he came from, Basel, and a global poll once found him to be the world’s second most respected person after Nelson Mandela.

Nobody took such care to cultivate their image to match their flawless physical gifts, or had such a good way in dealing with people, and it has been the most potent combination.

Federer joins Serena Williams as the latest tennis superstar to retire from the game this year

By the weekend after next he will be gone, at least at the highest official level of the game. He withdraws from the great Grand Slam title race with Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal lagging then on twenty, although many will continue to view him as the greatest ever.

Such is his massive drawing power that he will still command huge audiences when playing in exhibitions. It will help add to a fortune already bolstered by an estimated $1 billion of endorsements earned over his career.

Federer arrived on the scene as a brattish teenager with a temper, the son of a Swiss father and South African mother who had met in their work for a pharmaceutical company. Once an adult, they sensibly withdrew from his career for the most part.

Having learned to control his temperament, an extravagant talent found full range. The peak of his career actually came some time ago, between 2004-2009, when he won fourteen Grand Slam titles, which included five in a stretch at Wimbledon.

His tally of 20 Grand Slams is only beaten by men Rafael Nadal (22) and Novak Djokovic (21)

The full flowering of Djokovic and Nadal made them harder to come by thereafter, but there was a late career spurt in 2017-18.

Arguably the most spectacular Major triumph of all was the 2017 Australian Open, which he arrived at having missed the second half of the previous season. In the final he came from a break down in the deciding set to defeat Nadal, whose rare slip at the 2009 French Open had allowed Federer his one Roland Garros title.

As it turns out his Grand Slam career was to end at Wimbledon last year, and in the most inappropriate fashion. Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz knocked him out of the quarter final, sending him on his way with a 6-0 fourth set.

Federer was desperate to return to SW19 and make amends, but sustained recovery from his latest knee surgery has proved even beyond him, despite a prolonged effort.

Federer’s stylish game was always partnered with a smile and courtesy towards fellow players

All of his achievements were carried off with a flourish and flair that won him a global army of fans, who would often cheer him even against a player from their own country, to bewilderment at times.

It helped that he is a multilingual natural at public relations, who has fiercely protected his image.

Federer is not perfect – nobody is – and sometimes this tendency would see him go missing when the political flak was flying in the sport’s internecine squabbles, when it suited him.

The mask could sometimes slip after defeats, because losing has never come naturally, and he could be grouchy and ungracious after being beaten, failing to hide the deeply competitive streak within.

Yet there is also a deeply humane aspect to him, and not just when the cameras are rolling.

I recall once waiting to interview him in Miami while he went out of his way to privately meet a gravely ill young American boy and his parents. Within twenty seconds he had put them totally at their ease and made them feel they were the only thing in his world. Having given them far more time than promised, the sight of them walking on air afterwards was extremely moving.

Referring to Federer, Tim Henman said: ‘He is unbelievably grounded and good with people’

Those interpersonal skills mean that he could do just about anything in his retirement, and be a force for good on the world stage. He could be a born diplomat or politician.

Yet underneath it all, as one who has known him well since teenage years puts it, he has just loved being a tennis player.

He loves the travel, the locker room banter, the competition and even the unseen hard grind that has enabled everything.

As Tim Henman remarked today: ‘He is unbelievably grounded and good with people, he embraced every aspect of tour life and is a very special person. I played Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras at their best and Nadal and Djokovic before they reached their peak and Roger was the best I faced.

‘He could dominate you with every shot and do everything, whether it was attack or defence, he has been the complete player.’

Soon he will be lost to the professional game and it feels that tennis’ great realignment is coming on quicker than ever.

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