By the 2009 French Open, Roger Federer was considered by many to be the greatest tennis player of all time. With 13 Grand Slam titles already in place, and after so many years of success, it seemed like a formality that he would win two more titles and surpass his idol, Pete Sampras.
However, whether Federer could win in Paris has been in big question.
When Federer woke up on June 1 of that year, things changed dramatically. Rafael Nadal, the rival he couldn’t beat at Roland Garros, suffered a stunning fourth-round defeat to Robin Soderling. Federer was suddenly staring at his biggest ever chance of completing his Grand Slam career.
Federer retires: 20 times Grand Slam champion makes it official
But exactly two hours into his fourth-round match against Tommy Haas, it looked like a missed opportunity. After trailing two sets and serving at 3-4, 30-40, Federer was one point away from breaking and likely to finish in the next few minutes.
When he started sending Federer’s second away serve, he immediately moved into the back corner, anticipating that Haas would bounce back across the field. But instead of playing to a safe target or drawing Haas into a rally, the retreating Federer fired himself out of the red dirt and hit a forehand from inside out – the most dangerous shot he could have chosen at that moment – in the direction of the opposite side where Haas was only a part. small hole. The font caught the smallest margins. He went on to win the match, the match and the championship – a scene of joy and relief that Federer could not help but compose.
It’s impossible to know how much to count on that shot, and how many demons Federer would have struggled with if he didn’t make it. But her mere presence and the bold spirit she was born with explain what it was like watching Federer on the tennis court for two decades.
Whether you consider Federer the greatest ever or not, no player has ever conjured a sense of history with every swing of his racket, whose game was so beautiful that it could be painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and whose mindset was so bold that the difference between brilliance and crushing defeat It was often not more than an inch.
Federer announced Thursday that he is Retire from professional tennis after next week’s Laver Cup, a glorious exhibition likely to put him on court with Nadal for the last time. It would also allow fans to give Federer the fitting farewell he didn’t get a year ago at Wimbledon when he lost his last competitive set to Hubert Hurkacz, 6-0, then underwent his third knee surgery in an 18-month period.
Since then, there has been no expectation that Federer would be able to return at the age of 41 and play at a level that represents his greatness. Even if all goes well while he recovers, playing in 2023 will be little more than a farewell run. It’s still a mistake that Federer, perhaps the most universally beloved athlete of the modern era, wouldn’t even get that much.
But tennis doesn’t give way to fairytale endings, with the exception of Sampras’ retreat who made magic for the last time at the 2002 US Open and never set foot on the court again.
Often, greats of all time have to accept some level of humiliation in their last act. Björn Borg lost two consecutive Grand Slam finals to John McEnroe in 1981 and decided he had lost his passion. Andre Agassi gave it all at the age of 36 to piss off Marcos Baghdatis in the US Open finals with nothing left in the tank for the next round against the unknown Benjamin Baker. Steffi Graf couldn’t finish a match against Amy Frazier in San Diego due to a hamstring injury and announced her retirement a week later.
And as we just saw the US Open, Serena Williams turned back the clock enough to reach the third round but eventually walked off the court feeling like she let victory slip away in front of Agla Tomljanovic.
It sounds like a shock to all we’ve come to expect from tennis that Williams and Federer are drifting apart. Although Williams had already won six Grand Slam titles by the time Federer won his first in 2003, they excelled in their simultaneous runs for two decades, even during periods when they didn’t win everything in sight. It’s not often that you see all-time great athletes make the full journey from teenage appearances to dominance to parenthood to the inevitable athletic deaths, but they made the aging process seem more ambitious than anyone before them.
There has certainly been a lot of tension in the coming weeks about what it means to tennis that these international stars who have drawn millions onto stadiums around the world are leaving the scene. The truth is that Federer and Williams, along with Nadal and Novak Djokovic, have had a longer run than anyone could reasonably expect. There may be a period of transition, and generations may pass before someone can match their accomplishments, but the sport does not stop.
As seen at the US Open with 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz won the title After epic fights with Jannik Sinner and Francis Tiafoe Besides Iga Swiatek’s assertion of her dominance on the female side, there are plenty of sexy young stars ready to take the baton.
Whether it’s them or someone else coming up in the future, we’ll see players push the boundaries of the game just as Federer and Williams did. This is how tennis works, and it is a constant evolution of technology, sports and power that demands more and more players who want to win at the highest level.
What will be even more difficult for the next boy to recreate is the feeling that Williams and Federer generated when they were on the court. They didn’t play matches as much as main characters in a human drama where their weaknesses were as much a part of the story as their unique talent.
There is an alternate world in which Federer completes his Grand Slam career in 2009, beat Sampras at Wimbledon for a record slam and retires shortly thereafter. It was arguably the most dominant race in men’s tennis history, winning 90 percent of its matches over six years while accomplishing practically everything he could in the game.
But Federer wasn’t afraid of failing or seeing his dominance waning. I only challenged him to keep developing and improving, even though the next seven years of his career saw some painful losses to his rivals, matches he failed to finish and missed opportunities to add more majors.
At the time, Federer’s 2012 Wimbledon title seemed like one last sweet. In 2015, he lost close matches to Djokovic in the Wimbledon and US Open finals and seemed unlikely to hold any other major title. Then in 2016, he shut it down after Wimbledon to take care of a back injury.
The odds seemed long that he could come back and be a factor at 36. Instead, he’s not only come back, he’s won three more major slams, returned to No. 1 in 2018 and beat Nadal in five of his last six matches. . And he did so because, even after all the victories and successes, Federer continued to improve his playing style, kept making adjustments to his backhand and kept working to find solutions against players that gave him spells.
Every part of that trip made Federer a magnet. Not just the ease with which he won but the devastation of his many losses – perhaps none more so than in the 2019 Wimbledon final against Djokovic when he took two match points in the fifth set, squandered an ace by millimeters and then failed to clinch the title. .
Those moments might cost him the title of greatest ever. But even someone who doesn’t know anything about tennis can watch Federer and see the ingenuity and genius at play.
When Federer came, it was a tough men’s match. It was all about big submissions and fast dots, coloring by numbers game that lost a lot of creativity and skill.
Federer turned that on its head. It didn’t have the fastest transmission, but it was the most lethal. He hit more balls than any other player, missed countless break points, and often put himself in situations where he had to get out of trouble. What he had was a variety of bullet making like no other, a backhand slide that turned him into a weapon and a willingness to advance for attacks that were uncommon in his day. And when Federer hits a forehand, he really hit it – a distinctive shot with his eyes fixed on the focal point that everyone who has picked up a racket in the past 20 years has tried to recreate.
Federer did not always play tennis perfectly, but he always seemed to be perfect. And in the moments that required him to be great – like the 2009 French Open – he often found the right balance between brutality and grace.
We will miss Federer, not only by tennis but everyone who remembers what he was at his best. Whether the numbers indicate he was the greatest player ever is irrelevant. For nearly 20 years, no one has composed more moments that made his fans feel something they hadn’t felt before.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Roger Federer retired from tennis after making tennis look perfect in his career