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The Tide of Time Carries Roger Federer Into Retirement

The Swiss maestro will be remembered for his definitive influence in shaping the greatest era in tennis.

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Tennis
6 min read
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It is a dense moment of significant gravity in the world of tennis.

Roger Federer, an imperial genius from the Swiss town of Basel, has decided to draw the gilded curtains down on a wild dream.

Beyond the staggering numbers of his career, Federer will be remembered for his definitive influence in shaping the greatest era in tennis. He will remain immortal for producing greatness with his dancing feet, a poetic harmony of mind and motion.

As with Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Federer’s body of artistic work will endure the passage of time. 

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As he retired from the sport, he called time not only on his dreams but also those of millions of awestruck followers whose numb minds preserve the rousing notes of the virtuoso's space-bending sonata. He orchestrated magic with a flowing racquet and two floating feet. 

The strings on his racquet were drawn straight from the hearts of his gallery. As the ball struck those strings before floating back into an arc of delight, it embodied the joy and angst of the greatest choir in the sport of tennis.

They sang the hymns of Federer everywhere he sailed – from Beijing to Barcelona, Miami to Melbourne and everywhere between and beyond. Allez Roger, they cried as they made impassioned pleas for the maestro to tug at their hearts. 

A sober voice note from the Swiss called time on the greatest symphony in the sport and the tireless hymns of his dedicated choir. 

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Like Rudolf Nureyev, for many, the finest exponent of dance, Federer sought to extract the last oozing juice of rhythm from his straining limbs. “The main thing is dancing, and before it withers away from my body, I will keep dancing till the last moment, the last drop,” asserted the legendary danseur. 

The Australian Open in 2017 provided a fresh impetus to Federer’s hopes for a final flourish against his arch rivals Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. 

The Swiss reinvented his game in a memorable effort to counter his younger rivals. Federer took advantage of his nimble feet to take the ball early, producing sharp angles that presented fresh challenges to his opponents.

Investing greater belief and power into his backhand allowed Federer to play closer to the baseline and dictate play. It would turn out be his final significant act. 
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Federer stretched an already epoch-making career into a greater realm, going on to win Wimbledon in 2017. Even more impressively, he would defend his title in Melbourne for his 20th and final major title. 

But then, the divine spell that bound his limbs into a seemingly effortless dance started to wear away. Federer managed to hold sway over a suspicious back, but the knees proved far less pliable to his persuasive composition. 

Despite surgeries on both his knees, Federer continued to work with his doctors and trainers. With one more endearing act, Federer desired to defeat time.  

He stretched his sinews some more, coaxing his limbs into the realm of imagination. Alas, where the mind wills, the body does not necessarily follow. Not even for Federer. 

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Waltzing around some of the most hallowed 196 square metres stages around the world, Federer introduced fans to a brand of tennis that married excellence with romance. It sent delirious fans into a head spinning tizzy, heart in their trembling hands.

David Foster Wallace equated watching Federer with a spiritually enlivening experience. Over the years, million witnesses to his supreme craft have vouched for Wallace’s celebrated expressions as their own experience. 

Ironically, it took Federer himself plenty of time to discover the elixir within that lifted his craft into a lofty realm. In 2001, Federer announced himself with a striking dismissal of Pete Sampras on the Centre Court of Wimbledon.

Some have considered it a seminal moment in the emergence of Federer, paving the path for his first Grand Slam title two summers down the road. 

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Federer, though, was still a work in progress. He played with a lazy elegance, often losing ground to rivals such as Lleyton Hewitt, David Nalbandian and Andre Agassi.  

It was only later in 2003 at the Tennis Masters Cup that the great Swiss may have finally found the key to the chalice in his heart. Even though the event has received far less attention, there is good reason to argue that Federer discovered his true self in Houston. 

Staring at match points for Agassi in the opening encounter, Federer unleashed the full potential of his forehand to take the American down in a thrilling third set tiebreaker. One might argue for that match to have sparked a fire inside Federer. It was his first victory over Agassi in four meetings. 

The Swiss would follow that with a 3-0 thumping of Nalbandian, having lost all five of their previous matches. Federer remained unbeaten through the week, including a win against Andy Roddick, the world No 1 at the time.

In the finals, he would take Agassi down yet again 6-3, 6-0, 6-4 for the first of six ATP Finals trophies. 

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The spark in Houston turned into a blazing inferno. Federer was ruthlessly dominant through the next three seasons. He collected titles in a heap, picking 34 of them on the back of an insane 247-15 record between 2004 and 2006.  

That is a third of his 103 career titles, which included 28 Masters Series and 20 majors. Federer won 1251 matches in his career, just 23 shy of Jimmy Connors' record of 1274. 

Federer’s tryst with tennis was transcendental. And his seemingly effortless brand of tennis inspired Nadal and Djokovic to work harder than ever to better their own craft. The three contributed to an unforgettable era of prolific successes.  

Incredibly, there have been just thirteen instances between 2004 and 2022, when someone other than the Big Three (Federer-Nadal-Djokovic) won a Grand Slam title. They have won an unbelievable 63 of the last 77 Grand Slam titles. 

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Painfully for Federer, his 2008 loss to Nadal in the fading light at Wimbledon is considered by many as one of the finest matches ever played on a tennis court. It was a painful concession for Federer to make after owning the grass on Centre Court for five straight years. 

The victory at Roland Garros in 2009 may have healed some of those wounds, but that triumph came at the expense of Robin Soderling. The Swede shocked Nadal in the fourth round of the French Open, opening the door for Federer to complete his career Grand Slam.  

He may have found solace, too, in passing his idol Sampras a month later, when he regained the Wimbledon crown for his 15th major title. But it is likely that Federer may have taken greater joy in his return to peak form well into his 30s.

His resurgence in 2017 came off as a recalibration of his game, a period that suggested he may have finally solved some of the vexing riddles posed by Nadal and Djokovic. He would go on to win three of five majors, regaining the top ranking at the ripe age of 36. 
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The die-hard romantics that sing for Federer at every stop kept hoping for one final defiant act. The fifth set loss to Djokovic in 2019, after enjoying two match points for a ninth Wimbledon crown stung both the player and the fans. But the knee surgeries were one too many even for the revered deity of tennis.

"My body's message to me lately has been clear," admitted Federer. 

"To the game of tennis, I love you and will never leave you," he assured. Nonetheless, an epochal era will come to an end in London later this month. The Laver Cup, starting 23 September, will be the final hurrah for the maestro. 

The Swiss leaves a giant footprint that will be hard for the coming generations to fathom or emulate. The elegance of his stroke making, the silken movement, a mighty serve, his soft volleys, and angles that defied geometry will linger long after his active career. 

Federer’s alluring expressions of tennis will turn into tales and folklore that might even blur into mythology. Yet, Federer was real. His tennis though, was well beyond our capacity for imagination. 

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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