By Arnie Leshin
Roger Federer was one year old when I covered my first tennis match in 1968 at Forest Hills, the last United States Open before it included professional players.
Through the years I was on hand to cover the likes of Pancho Gonzalez, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Andy Roddick, Bjorn Borg, Arthur Ashe, Bille Jean King, Chris Evert, and a long list of others who took the court.
But sorry to say, I never had the pleasure of being on hand to see Federer play, but I did have the joy of watching him thanks to television, and it was easy to pronounce him as a champion’s champion.
Now, at the age of 41, he has announced his retirement. No more trying to get around on his surgical knee. He said his rehabilitation with the knee wasn’t going well wasn’t going as well as he had hoped.
“It was a bittersweet decision,” he said, to end my career doing something I loved so much, but I felt it was time.”
By the numbers, the prized athlete from Switzerland won 20 Grand Slam championships, 10 consecutive Grand Slams from 2005-07, won his initial Grand Slam in 2003 at Wimbledon, won 103 tour-level titles, numbered 1,251 wins in singles matches, and was ranked number one for five straight years, and served and volleyed in 1,500-plus matches.
But that’s it, no more Grand Slam tournaments and his actual farewell event will be the Rod Laver in London next week, a team event run by his management company.
He goes down as one of the all-time greats of the sport. He had the most complete game of his generation and captured, like myself, the hearts of sport fans around the world with an amazing quickness on the court and an amazing tennis mind.
Yes, he had a historic career with memories that will live on and on. He never invited controversy, he was a people’s players, great with the fans, provided honest interviews without complaining and always had complements for his opponents.
He exits as one of the finest athletes in the long history of the sport, re-presenting a significant turning of the page.
At his retirement announcement, he was as generous as usual. Answered all questions, smiled, shook hands and just presented the facts.
“As many of you know,” he said from his home in Switzerland, “the past three years have presented me with challenges in the form of injuries and surgeries. I’ve worked hard to return to full competitive form, but I also know my body’s capacities and limits, and its message to me lately have been clear.”
A heart-felt message, full of love, life, hope, passion, and gratitude, which is exactly how he played the game. There was the huge inspiration, elegance, grace adding to his beautiful magical game.
He had all the parts. There was that incredible speed, his serve was remarkable, he was like a deck of cards with aces, he mixed in forehands and backhands that had opponents shaking their heads, he was equally adept, unreal, at the net, and he was as popular as any player who toed the line, and no doubt will be missed.
He can be thanked for probably doing more for tennis than any single individual. He can be congratulated on all his achievements and the people he continues to impact in and away from tennis.