Thank you - King of Tennis!

An emotional goodbye as a professional tennis player
Illustrated by Jeannette Khouri

What does someone feel, when walking for the very last time onto a tennis court, for the final time taking part in a competition?

What are the feelings of someone who has the attention for a final time on him, after spending over 26 years in the world’s spotlights? When the lights switch off and he is left with only memories? That moment when what has been expected for a long time, becomes reality.

Roger Federer was born in 1981, a Swiss national who started his professional career in 1994 at a tender age of 14. Four years later in 1998, he won both the boys’ singles final in Wimbledon in England. The rest is the history of a Swiss legend: eight-time champion. He won 20 grand slam titles between 2003 and 2018. He won 103 ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) singles titles. An extraordinary 237 weeks consecutively as world number one tennis player.  Federer, a true hero, not only for Swiss nationals - but for the entire world.

Roger Federer walked for the final farewell on Friday night the 23rd of September, from what symbolized his entire life, onto the tennis court at the Laver Cup at the O2 Arena in London.

Just moments before arriving at the Arena in a taxi shared with Rafael Nadal, he went live on Instagram, sharing this most emotional last time he was driven to a competition as a player. Letting everyone witness it. He appeared in very good spirit, trying to convey happiness and confidence, however, some sadness and agitation could be recognized in the laughter he used to downplay his real emotions.

Less than ten days ago, on the 15th of September, Federer announced through an official statement, that he is retiring as a professional tennis player. It did not come as a surprise given his age of 41 years. However, as everything, when something comes to an end - the emotions are many, especially if it is Roger Federer we are referring to.

Federer’s most glorious career ended In London on that September evening in a sea of emotions, from the players as well as from all the fans attending and sharing this historical moment.

It was very clear from the moment the match began, that it would be an incredibly emotional evening ending with nothing less than many tears. Federer has shown repeatedly in the past that being emotional was part of who he was. On multiple occasions during his career, he would cry, regardless of the outcome of his match being a defeat or a victory. Perhaps exactly due to this in publicly shown vulnerability, it made him be loved even more.

Many moving and unforgettable scenes could be witnessed on his last night on the court in London. Intimate hugs between Federer and Nadal as well as the opposite team.  A very long-standing ovation from the crowd who chanted his name. Yet, what stroke right on to someone’s heartstrings, was the image of the two men, once ardently long-time rivals and opponents, fighting for being worlds number 1, Federer and Nadal – who were sitting on a bench next to each other, both sobbing. Those most honest tears of a man who is bidding farewell to his competitive career. It was more than just tennis: it was his life. His passion. His identity. His everything.

Little does it matter, that Roger Federer lost his very last match in the double with Rafael Nadal against the American Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe on the Laver Cup. Victory or defeat never mattered less than on that evening. It was simply seen as a joyful and honorable last goodbye to a giant of sport. What mattered was that Federer was able to perform one last time as a professional tennis player, in front of his family, fans, many sports legends, and with Nadal, with whom he shares a deep friendship. A friendship that goes beyond being rivals for a very long time on court. Due to a knee injury, Federer has not been playing competitively for over a year. Only a double game would have been possible as his mobility is still limited. But what counts was that he was there and rewarded the world with his skills of the finest tennis. “I am glad I made it through and the match was great. I could not be happier!” an emotional Federer explains after the game.

His family was all there to support him at the match as well as at the after-party. His wife Mirka, their four children and his parents joined Federer on court at the end. Federer in tears said: “Everyone is here, my boys and girls. My wife has been so supportive. She could have stopped me a long, long time ago but she didn’t. She kept me going and allowed me to play, so it’s amazing - Thank you!”

Before leaving the court, Federer said “Thank you everybody. I’ve had so many people cheer me on and you guys here tonight mean the world”.

A tribute paid by Marin Cilic, a Croatian professional tennis player, following Federer’s retirement: “Humble in victory, gracious in defeat. Even in the toughest moments, always looking out for others, his teammates, opponents, fans, family. The epitome of class. You will be so very missed”.

Despite being sorely missed in the world of tennis we can only share Federer own words of hope “This is not the end-end. You know, life goes on.”