Roger Federer revealed his wife Mirka is relieved and his children cried at the news of his retirement from tennis. And the Swiss superstar showed his human side by admitting he lived in fear of further damage to his injured right knee and he is now nervous before his farewell performance at the Laver Cup on Friday night. Federer hopes he will share the court with Rafael Nadal which he said would be a “special” way to go out.
Federer has won 20 Grand Slam titles and multitudes of fans with an effortless elegance over the past two decades. Yet speaking before the second historic royal event in London this week, the 41-year-old opened up on the pain and uncertainty during his fight to continue his career over the last few years.
And despite three knee surgeries, he said it was not only him who was suffering. “The last few years have been tough for me, but I think it was even tougher for Mirka,” he said.
“With all the injuries, she didn’t enjoy watching me anymore. I felt sorry for her too. It’s a great relief for her now that it’s over.” The reaction of his two sets of twins – daughters Myla and Charlene and sons Lenny and Leo – was more mixed.
Federer, who announced his decision on Instagram last Thursday, said: “I told them the day before. I told them that nothing will change much. We’ve seen what it’s going to be like over the last few years. Somewhere they are sad that I will stop.
“But they always expressed the wish: ‘Stop playing tennis, we want to go skiing!’ I said it to all four at the same time and three out of four cried.” Federer has achieved nearly everything in the game but he has never retired before.
“I’ve had a lump in my stomach for the past two or three weeks,” he admitted. “Writing the letter took a lot of emotional energy. I was in a very 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.
“I probably went through a lot of different stages. I don’t know if you can call it grieving. But now I feel good.” Federer said he had decided to quit “a few days” after his last match – a Wimbledon quarter-final defeat to Hubert Hurkacz where he lost the final set 6-0.
“I said on court that I hope to see everyone again next year,” he recalled. “At the time, I still honestly believed it. After a few days and weeks I noticed that the knee was no longer making any progress. I had given so much into the comeback and rehab. I was so exhausted, tired from training. I asked myself: ‘What’s in it for me?”
Asked if he is still in pain while playing, Federer revealed: “I get scared going too far because I don’t want to bang it up and make it go completely crazy. Otherwise I could be playing. And the more hurt you’ve been, the more surgeries you’ve had, the more scared you get with everything and that’s hard to get it out of your head as a player.
“And that’s why coming back from surgeries and injuries is so, so tricky because you want to focus on the guy’s got a weak forehand or he’s not good there. But you can’t even think about that stuff anymore because your mind, it’s just here, with your knee.”
Whether Federer is the male GOAT ahead of his Europe team-mates this week Novak Djokovic or Rafa Nadal is debatable. His place in tennis history is undeniable. “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,” he said.
“Next thing you know, you’re part of that group, and it’s been a great feeling.” But for his encore in the doubles on The O2 stage, he admitted: “ I’m nervous going in because I haven’t played in so long. I hope I can be somewhat competitive.”