Roger Federer’s farewell
By Simon Briggs
Roger Federer has admitted that the realization that he would never win another Wimbledon title reduced him to tears last summer.
The 41-year-old, who announced last week he would retire after the ongoing Laver Cup, revealed he broke down after losing to Felix Auger Aliassime in the build-up to his final Wimbledon in 2021.
Having eaten away at the majesty of his serve, he was still able to come forward and win short points. But once the opponent gained the upper hand in a rally, he was no longer able to move the balls back for long.
“When I lost to Felix in Halle [in June 2021]I cried after the match [as] I knew I wasn’t going to win Wimbledon,” Federer explained. “You get to a certain point where against certain players who are at a good level, you create too many moments of having to defend. [But] there is nothing left in the defense. So I had to play extra offensively and just try to weasel my way through the games this way.
It may seem strange to imagine Federer – the male record holder for Wimbledon titles – having to “weasel” his way through matches, especially on grass. But looking back at Wimbledon in 2021, he needed some help in his first-round encounter with the awkward Adrian Mannarino, only getting through when Mannarino fell and sprained his knee while leading two sets to one.
After more encouraging wins over Richard Gasquet, Cameron Norrie and Lorenzo Sonego, Federer’s singles career ended in the quarter-finals, where Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz stopped him in straight sets.
It is a testament to the ruthlessness of the sport that Federer went out with a 6-0 bagel set, just as Donald Bradman registered a duck in his final lap and Usain Bolt pulled a hamstring in the 4x100m relay.
“The end of that match was one of the worst moments of my career because I felt really terrible,” Federer said. “It was over, the knee was gone, and knowing that I had to meet the media right after in a short period of time was very difficult. But for me it is what it is. You know you can’t turn back time and say, “Oh, we should have changed this.”
“And that’s why I’m so happy that on my left knee [which had undergone a similar operation four years earlier] I was able to come back and win three more slams, including that comeback win in 2017 in Australia.
“Because I had a good experience with the left, I thought, ‘Okay, the right is a very similar operation. We’ll do it, and maybe I’ll get another chance. Look, it wasn’t to be, and then obviously the last three the years have been pretty tough. You deal with it. When I go through rehab, the day-to-day progress is small, but I want to be healthy for the rest of my life. So it was definitely worth it.”
Federer admitted he regrets his decision to undergo surgery on his right knee in February 2020. As he told reporters at the O2 Arena this week, he has never regained the fluidity of old, despite the best part of 18 months rehabilitation.
“When I came back [from the 2020 Australian Open] I was so unhappy with my knee and I had been unhappy for several years,” Federer explained. “So maybe doing that surgery, maybe I shouldn’t have done it in retrospect. But then maybe what could have happened is that I would have played and it would have exploded at some point.
“At that moment I was 100 percent convinced that it was the right thing to do. I did the operation, which was successful, and six weeks later I have to do another one, because something is wrong again. I mean, you just can’t predict this. There is always a risk when you open something. That’s why I always said, ‘It’s the beginning of the end once you’ve had surgery.'”