By Archit Suresh
“What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”Hellen Keller
The newly added entrance doors swung open, and for a moment it felt like all was right in the world again. The crowd cheered wildly, in a way that they had never cheered for all the other previous champions who had walked onto the court just minutes earlier. Roger Federer was back on Centre Court where he belonged.
Except it didn’t quite feel right.
Standing beside him was Novak Djokovic, looking fresh in his tracksuit as he prepared to take on Tim Van Rijthoven later that day on that very same court in his quest to overtake Federer’s 20 major titles. (Spoiler alert: he did.) He looked like a tennis player. On the other hand, Federer looked very much like a man who was nearing an exit from the game that he had devoted himself to his entire life. Everything about him that day told us what we needed to know. There he stood next to one of his great rivals, in a black suit and tie, dressed as if he knew that his days on a court as a professional were numbered. Everything about him screamed businessman/mogul/sporting icon/ambassador. Everything except his shoes. Federer, a friend of Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and known for his sense of style amongst players, walked out in a pair of white sneakers. It seemed as if a small piece of him, like many of his fans at the time, was holding out even the tiniest bit of hope that his rehab would pay off and the knee that had been troubling him for years would let him try and come back onto the tour one last time.
Unfortunately, it isn’t to be for Federer, as he announced his plans to retire from the sport after this year’s Laver Cup.
This might have been the world’s most unsurprisingly surprising retirement. We knew this was a long time coming. Hell, people were ready to write the Swiss man off after 2013, after losses to Sergiy Stakhovsky at Wimbledon and Tommy Robredo at the U.S. Open, in what would be one of his worst career years to date. People were ready to write Federer off in 2016 after his first bout with knee injuries forced him out of the game for nearly six months. Not having won a major since Wimbledon in 2012, Federer looked as if he was nearing the end of his career, and people were all too eager to announce possible retirement dates.
We all know what came next. A rejuvenated Federer came back to claim his 18th major in Australia completing his fairytale run in the final against longtime rival Rafael Nadal. He then went on a tear that had us thinking Federer was here to stay for a while. That’s what great athletes do. They accomplish so much against all odds so rapidly that they make us believers on the ride along with them. They make us forget that they’re human. If someone had asked me two weeks ago if I thought Federer still had another major left in him, I would’ve said I was 99% sure that he didn’t. I’d have said that the physical and mental toll would just be too much for him to overcome. But I would’ve left 1% on the table to account for his ineffable greatness. After all, we couldn’t do it with Serena Williams in New York a few weeks ago. Time eventually conquers all, but Roger Federer sure made it sweat to catch up to him.
Nadal and Djokovic likely still have a few more majors left in them, even at this stage in their careers. If they keep winning, we won’t bat an eye. If they lose, it’ll feel like yet more of the world is crashing down on top of us. But life moves on. Tennis will not stop because of Federer’s announcement. We will wake up and life will keep moving forward. Carlos Alcaraz is number one in the world. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are still battling. Jannik Sinner is on the rise. Davis Cup matches are going on through the night. Tennis will keep going. They say time stops for no one, but it might slow down a little when Federer takes the court with his greatest rivals as teammates for a final sendoff.
For many tennis fans, including myself, Roger Federer was their path into the game. I’m not sure when it happened, but eventually, I became more of a tennis fan than a Federer fan. To those of you wondering where to turn after this, I have one thing to say: Federer may be leaving the game he got so many people involved in, but his legacy lives on in the players that grew up idolizing him, the rivals he shared the court with, and most importantly the fans that kept their eyes glued to his tennis. It’s been a long and fun ride that went by in the blink of an eye. It comes to a close soon, so cherish the moments we have left with all of them together as we bid farewell to an illustrious man and his career. We may not have much time left with any of them, so let’s make the most of it while we still can.