Roger Federer, the end of a tasty anachronism

It is the adversary that no athlete, however brilliant, can overcome. Not even Roger Federer. The passage of time and the weight of the years have therefore come to the end of the Basler who will bid farewell to London, as part of the Laver Cup, a month and a half after his 41st birthday. However, he somehow did everything to maintain the illusion of eternity. Do you realize that in the summer of 2008 when his unchallenged reign came to an end in favor of Rafael Nadal – 237 consecutive weeks in the place of world number 1, which is still a record – the first birds of bad omen announced already the end. It will have lasted 14 more years.
So much so that he gave the impression of not having the same biological clock as the others. Like no one, except perhaps his great Mallorcan rival, he will have mastered the art of rebounding. After a dark year 2013 on his scale, marked by early exits at Wimbledon (2nd round) and the US Open (8th final), he was able to reinvent himself thanks to the help of his idol Stefan Edberg, a sieve (slightly) wider and with a more offensive bias.

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In 2016, stopped for the first time by a knee operation, his nose in the grass of Wimbledon, he had taken six months to recharge the batteries and make further progress in reverse. Result: a comeback as thunderous as it was unexpected and sublime at the 2017 Australian Open. a canonical age where most athletes have bowed out. And this thanks to the advice of an Ivan Ljubicic – barely older than him and become his coach – whom he had faced for a long time on the previous courts. This is to say if he has succeeded in extending his “lifespan” at the highest level.

Federer – Nadal 2017, the summary of a legendary final

Technique, physique and relaxation: the secrets of longevity

So what was his secret? From 2004 and his accession to world number one, Federer had put all the ingredients in place with his physical trainer Pierre Paganini in order to stay on top as long as possible. To do this, he had three major assets: a little high-precision footwork, an almost perfect racket technique in hand and a relaxation that avoided any superfluous effort.

When he had the margin – and this happened to him quite often -, he therefore contrived to save as much energy as possible by stunning his opponents. We no longer count the number of games folded in three dry sets and 1h30 in Grand Slam, two sets and less than an hour everywhere else. It was the famous “FedExpress”, whose speed of movement, sequence between points and early ball taking amazed. At the time of the reign of power, ever larger sizes and tennis-percentage, the game of the Swiss maestro had given something anachronistic.

A classicism in homage to past champions

Through the purity of his shots, the excellence of his placement and adjustments, the brilliance of his touch, he paid tribute to the champions of the past. And what better setting to demonstrate this than Center Court at Wimbledon? He had made it his garden and we now remember with a certain nostalgia his “vintage” entries in a blazer and white pants and/or a sweater. A nod to the tradition and nobility of his sport.

Roger Federer, Wimbledon 2007.

Credit: AFP

His playing with a thousand facets constituted a kind of synthesis of all that had been done before. A classicism with formidable efficiency: from his passage of Ken Rosewall-style backhand chops to his forehand slice defense like a squash player – a now democratized move – his palette was unrivaled and delighted the spectators . Some anthology sequences commented on by our colleagues from the BBC still resonate to this day in our ears as the memories rise. Small anthology:

  • In the final in 2012 against Andy Murray, on a fake drop that turns into a winning forehand slice: “Pretty old fashioned shot, Fred Perry would have liked that“, had exclaimed the commentator. Which gives roughly in French: “It’s a shot from another era, Fred Perry (winner at Wimbledon in 1934, 1935, 1936, Ed) wouldn’t have denied him.”
  • During the same match, on a drop shot hit while stepping back to escape the ball, Tim Henman could not hold back a “This is delicious“which does without translation.
  • In the semi-final in 2017 against Tomas Berdych, invited to comment on the future direction of Federer’s services, Tim Henman, again him, and Boris Becker are wrong each time, mystified by the illegible ball throw of the Swiss. Executes the bursts of laughter of ex-champions captivated by the mastery deployed before their eyes.

Anachronistic, Federer was therefore above all by his tennis, of a prodigious elegance and which he knew how to adapt to the times: from server-volleyball assumed against Pete Sampras in 2001 to attacker from baseline capable of holding the high dragee to Novak Djokovic for more than five hours 18 years later. But he was also out of time in his relationship to others and to the media.

Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2019

Credit: Getty Images

As respected by Laver as by Alcaraz: a bridge between generations

His status gave him a special aura. Many have thus said that the silence was when he entered the locker room. The Swiss naturally commands respect like all the great champions who preceded him, from Rod Laver to Andre Agassi, via Björn Borg and John McEnroe. But he didn’t use it to create a character. Willing to lodge, accessible for young wolves in search of advice, he has never felt special while being aware of what he is inventing. As such, his press conferences were often a delight for journalists: listening, he varied a number of enlightening details on the game and did not hesitate to develop.

This volubility showed a deep love for his sport and its history. A quality increasingly rare these days among athletes who too often tend to lose interest in what happened before them. From this point of view, Federer embodied a relay between generations and it is also for this reason – beyond assumed marketing objectives – that he created the Laver Cup in homage to Rod Laver and the legends who made them dream. A special bond has developed between the Swiss and the Aussie over the years, which also helps to give ‘Rodgeur’ a certain authority on the circuit and beyond.

While he gave up the world number 1 spot to Novak Djokovic for most of the last decade, many still see Federer as the “boss” of world tennis. Not a tyrannical boss, but a “father of the game“as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga said in L’Equipe, guarantor of tradition, of a certain propriety without ever departing from a “cool” side appreciated by young people. He has moreover appropriated a part of his codes in his own way: selfies with animals in Australia or his new dog, surprise encounters with young fans during confinement via a sponsor, or even video “chat” of legends with Rafael Nadal.

We no longer count the players of the following generations who were inspired by him. Carlos Alcaraz, who paid him a strong tribute to which he responded, is also the last blatant example. Out of time and universal, Federer will have spoken to everyone. Now remains a legacy to cultivate.

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