Roger Federer has revealed how he wept when the searing realisation hit him that he was never going to win Wimbledon again.
The moment came not this summer, but as far back as the lead-in to the Championships in 2021.
The 41-year-old Swiss, who is making an emotional farewell to top-line tennis at the Laver Cup, had a painful collision with the reality in Germany, where he played a preparatory tournament on grass.
The tears started to flow when he was beaten in the second round by Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime in Halle.
‘What I do remember is when I lost to Felix I cried after the match and I knew I would not win Wimbledon,’ he said. ‘So I was realistic about my chances there. Once you are in the moment, you try to convince yourself at all costs, but I knew it was going to be really, really difficult.’
This was the precursor to his awkward exit from the All England Club, which saw him lose his last-ever set there 6-0 to Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz on Centre Court. Federer, however, chooses to put a positive spin on that four-set quarter-final defeat.
‘It was an amazing result I thought, under the circumstances I was under with my knee. The end of that match was one of the worst moments of my career because I really felt awful.
‘It was over, the knee was gone, and then knowing I had to face the media right afterwards in a short amount of time was really hard. But you know you can’t turn back the time and go, ‘Oh, we should have changed this’.’
Ultimately his 41-year-old knee is no longer up to the full rigours of high-intensity competition, which is why he is bowing out on Friday night with a doubles match playing alongside his old rival Rafael Nadal.
He admitted he has sometimes wondered whether he should have opted for surgery to his right knee at all.
‘Maybe what could have happened is I would have played on and then it would have exploded at some moment. Which would have been like way worse. Who knows?
‘I always said it’s the beginning of the end once you have had surgery. Obviously the last three years have been pretty tough in terms of those things. I want to be healthy for life. So it was definitely worth it.’
Among the things he is looking forward to is finally being able to participate in a family skiing holiday, something he has always denied himself due to the risks of injury.
Marooned on 20, Federer leaves behind the race to see who can end up with the most Grand Slam singles titles among the men, with Nadal on 22 and Novak Djokovic on 21 heading into 2023.
Interestingly, he challenges the orthodoxy that these kind of tallies will never be threatened again. The main reason for that belief is that the surfaces used in tennis are more universal than they were, and tend towards the slow side, favouring baseline play.
‘We never talked about 20 with me. We always talked about maybe you could reach 15,’ he said. ‘I do believe more than ever you can dominate through all the surfaces, that’s because they all play the same. There is not the serve-and-volley dangerous guys anymore on quick surfaces.
‘I did a clinic here (at the O2 Arena) and I asked how is the court. ‘Oh, it looks so slow’. There you go, welcome to my world. Everything’s slow nowadays. Indoors is not what it used to be. It wasn’t like when it was lightning quick.
‘So that’s why I think there will be more players in the future with I’d say five-plus Slams. Because once you get on a roll, you can stay on a roll. I do believe at some point, somehow, there will be definitely a few players with 20-plus Slams, I’m convinced about that.’
Federer remains optimistic about what is coming for the game, provided players do not overschedule themselves.
‘It is a gruelling, tough sport. No doubt about it. I was very happy with what I saw at the US Open, some great matches.
‘Tennis always creates another great storyline when you dig deeper into the personalities of the players. I watched (Frances) Tiafoe and (Carlos) Alcaraz in New York.
‘I really enjoyed what I saw and I’m sure the future is bright for the game.’