Roger Federer has delved into more detail about the decision-making process behind concluding his record-breaking tennis career.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion announced in a social media post his intention to retire following this weekend’s Laver Cup, and fronted the press on Wednesday in London to reflect on a professional tennis career spanning almost 25 years.
Federer said he ends his career with few regrets and satisfaction with where he sits among the game’s pantheon of legends.
For more than a decade, after surpassing Pete Sampras’ major title haul with victory at 2009 Wimbledon, Federer owned the record for the most Grand Slam men’s singles titles in history, before being surpassed by Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic this year.
Yet he continues to hold countless other tennis records and a legacy of having elevated both the level and popularity of tennis to astounding heights.
“I'm definitely very proud and very happy where I sit,” he said ahead of the Laver Cup, where he is expected to play doubles on Friday evening at The O2 Arena.
“One of my big moments of course was winning my 15th slam at Wimbledon, when Pete was sitting there. Anything after that was a bonus. That was the record, and then of course it was other records along the way.
“Nowadays, I think … players will want to chase records. It's true at some point I kind of probably did as well, but not the first years until I got closer to Pete's record.
“For me, it was about how did I manage my schedule, was I happy on and off the court, did I like my life on the tour? And I did. I think I had the best of times.
“Obviously the last few years have been what they have been, but I'm very happy that I was able to win another five slams from 15 on. For me it was incredible. Then I made it to over 100 titles.
“Don't need all the records to be happy; I tell you that.”
In a wide-ranging press conference, Federer chatted at length as he reflected on his magnificent playing career. Below are some of the highlights.
On preparing for playing doubles only at his final event at Laver Cup:
“That was my concern as well a little bit going in. Of course this is an event, an ATP event that I don't want to mess with, you know, but at the same time, I know my limitations… So here I am trying to prepare for one last doubles, and we'll see with who it is. I'm nervous going in because I haven't played in so long. I hope I can be somewhat competitive.”
On the moment he knew his playing career was to end:
“I guess there was a certain process that started at the beginning of the summer, where you try to go to the next level in training, and I could feel it was getting difficult. So obviously at that point I knew any hiccup, any setback, was going to be the one potentially. Then I also got a scan back which wasn't what I wanted it to be. At some point you sit down and go, Okay, we are at an intersection here, at a crossroad, and you have to take a turn. Which way is it?
“Then maybe the hardest part after that one point, of course you're sad in the very moment when you realise, okay, this is the end. I sort of ignored it for a little bit almost, because I went on vacation and just said, Okay, this is it. This moment came shortly after I was at Wimbledon where I still truly actually believed there was going to be a chance for me to come back the next year. At what capacity, I didn't know, but I thought it might be possible.
“I only then at one point when I returned from vacation I really started to discuss the details of, okay, where, when, how, what. Honestly this period was quite stressful getting the letter right, the wording right, using words like "bittersweet."
On confronting the concept of retirement:
“I was in a very, I guess, worried, scared place to face the music, the media, the fans, and everything, being able to talk about it in a normal fashion without getting emotional, just because I know how much it means to me. But I feel like I probably went through a lot of different stages. I don't know if you can call it grieving, and then you get to (a point where you think) I really don't want it to be a funeral. I want it to be really happy and powerful and party mode, rather than the other side. It has to feel like it's going to be fun, and not everybody (saying), Oh, I'm so sorry, are you okay? No, no, I'm okay, but I'm going to be happy.
“I think that was also the part where I talked about didn't want to think about it, because I was not ready in my picture, seeing myself speak on a tennis court was impossible at that moment. I think going through that has helped me a lot that I can be here today.
“I'm happy with the decision, because it's the right one. I thought about it. I have had a lot of time to let it sit.”
On why he used the word “bittersweet” in his retirement post:
“The bitterness (is because) you always want to play forever. I love being out on court, I love playing against the guys, I love travelling. I never really felt like it was that hard for me to do, of winning, learn from losing, it was all perfect. I love my career from every angle. That's the bitter part. The sweet part was that I know everybody has to do it at one point. Everybody has to leave the game. It's been a great, great journey. For that, I'm really grateful.”
On choosing London as the place to retire:
“That was clearly part of my thinking, as well: Where is the place? I contemplated a lot of other things. Before the US Open maybe, but this was before Serena announced it. But I said I was not going to be there.
“I wish I could have announced it earlier, but it all worked out. I'm happy to do it here in London. After then thinking about it, this city has been special to me. Maybe the most special place with Wimbledon down the road and here at the O2… won here as well. I just thought it was very fitting. I have always enjoyed the crowds here as well.
“Having Bjorn Borg on the bench with me for my final game resonated also in a big way with me. Having all the other guys around just felt like I was not going to be lonely announcing my retirement.
“I'm really looking forward to these next few days. It's going to be very special.”
On his best and sweetest career moments:
“I haven't really gone into deep-diving thinking about what are those moments. (Off the) top of my head, obviously you think about first Wimbledon (title in 2003), the match with Sampras at Wimbledon (fourth-roun win in 2001), the 2017 comeback, winning Australia, '09 French Open. I'm fortunate that I can almost pick and choose which moments were the best because there were so many.”
On his pride at his career longevity and consistency:
“I was famous for being quite erratic at the beginning of my career. If you maybe remember, I was famous for being not so consistent, and then to become one of the most consistent players ever is quite a shock to me, as well. That has been I think a great accomplishment for me personally that people can judge, if they think that's the case too, but for me, that is something I have really enjoyed and that I have been able to stay at the top for so long and compete for any tournament I would enter and really go out there and say, like, I hope I can win the tournament for, I don't know, let's say 15-plus years… and not just saying, Oh, quarters would be great.
“I think looking back that has a special meaning to me because I always looked to the Michael Schumachers, Tiger Woods, all the other guys that stayed for so long at the top that I didn't understand how they did it. Next thing you know, you're part of that group, and it's been a great feeling.”
On how he’ll be remembered:
“They will talk about the other things (like his classic, fluid style of play), which I'm very happy and very proud of, as well. But you need everything, especially grit and fight and all that toughness to come through and stay at the top for as long as I did. I was more lucky to maybe (be) more gifted with racquet head speed or that stuff.
“I'm proud of how far I have come, because I know that this was something I really struggled with early on. I was criticised a lot, heavily maybe sometimes even, fairly or unfairly, whatever it is, why wouldn't I fight more when losing? Because they thought when I lost I didn't give it all I had, even though I care probably more than most players. So I didn't quite understand what that meant. Do I have to grunt, do I have to sweat more, shout more, be more aggressive towards my opponents? What is it? It's not me. I'm not like that. That's not my personality.
“A lot of people then told me, Well, you have to be tougher and not so nice maybe, you know. I tried, but that was all an act. And I said, Well, I will try it the nice way. Let's see where it takes me. Let me just try to be normal and be myself, and I'm very happy I was able to stay authentic and be myself for this long.”
On any regrets he might have:
"Of course you have somewhat regrets but never really, because I do believe things happen for a reason, and if it wasn't going to be for mistakes made or wrong decisions, who knows? Those are what made me grow, as well. I'm happy it happened the way it did.
"I'm probably famous for having some tougher losses, as well, but then also dealing with them and seeing it as an opportunity to get better, to grow from it. I'm happy I don't have flashbacks at tough moments in my career. I see more the happiness, me with trophy, me winning, me winning moments, and I'm happy that my brain allows me to think this way, because I know it's not easy to push sometimes defeats and those things away.”
On what he will miss most:
“I love tying my shoes, getting ready, putting the bandanna on, I look in the mirror, Are we ready for this? Yeah, okay, let's go. As much as I love it, I'm happy I don't have to go through it again. Having those knots in my tummy, waiting all day, eating breakfast, thinking about, okay, tonight, I've got another big match. Oh, I've got another 15 hours to wait for it.
“I will miss just every interaction on the court, off the court…I know these people came from a faraway place, spent a lot of money, took time off from their vacation or from work and come watch me play. I mean, I'll miss that.”
On remaining connected to tennis beyond his playing career:
“I just wanted to let the fans know I won't be a ghost. It's funny, I talked about Bjorn Borg just before. I don't think he returned to Wimbledon for 25 years. That, in a way, hurts every tennis fan. Totally acceptable, his life, his reasons, you know. But I don't think I'll be that guy, and I feel tennis has given me too much. I have been around the game for too long. Have fallen in love with too many things.
"I love seeing people again, and that's kind of what I wanted to let the fans know that you'll see me again. Now what it could be, in what capacity (I’ll stay involved in tennis), I don't know. So I still have to think about it a little bit but give myself time."
On the next generation of players who will take over:
“I think it's going to be great. More athletic than ever I think… Zverev, Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Rublev, all of them. Not mentioning nearly enough, but the best movers are the best players. It's been like this for the last 10, 20 years already now, and it's going to stay like this, if you see what they are able to do. I think that is going to stay this way.
“(Back in my day) anything short, they're coming in. Nowadays that's not the case, but that's fine. I still think tennis is going to be really exciting and we probably don't know in which way it's going to go exactly, but we will see some ridiculous defending, some unbelievable power, and great personalities. I'll be their No. 1 fan. It's going to be all good.”