Roger Federer‘s professional tennis career comes to an end in London at the Laver Cup on Friday, where he will partner long-time rival Rafael Nadal in a doubles encounter, representing Team Europe. They face American duo Francis Tiafoe and Jack Long, representing Team World.
Eurosport tennis expert, Barbara Schett, spoke to Federer in an exclusive interview ahead of the showpiece event.
Schett: This is going to be an interview between you know, the two of us for Eurosport is quite emotional, not just for you also for me, so please excuse me if I start crying.
Federer: It’s okay. We’ll get through this somehow. We’ll make it. I have cried, plenty. That’s why I’m okay now. I hope it’s not going to be our last interview. I’d like to coming around to tennis tournaments. And see people see you see and speak and talk tennis. I love it. We’ll see how often or when I’d have no idea: We’ll see. But we’ll get through this interview.
Schett: Okay, good. Yeah, let’s, you know, after you’ve just done a press conference here at the Laver Cup and you actually put your retirement into words. how was that? And we have a chance to speak to you right after this. When you know, you’ve taken that decision in writing when you let the world know and now you actually have to put it into words and speak about it. How does that feel for you?
Federer: I think it’s important for me to go through this because I have too many people to thank. I want to reconnect with the fans again, who have been the backbone of my career, I’ve had home court advantage in a way everywhere I went and I feel that it’s very unique and I’m super happy about that and forever thankful. I also when I announced that I wanted to have a chance to be around and not just be a ghost really, you know, announce it and just disappear. I mean, it was not easy. Because I didn’t want to fabricate moments as well as the Laver Cup allowed me to be here to be around the team, maybe potentially try to play as well. But really also spend time with the guys again, be part of the tennis family, community, and really hope I can play on Friday. That’s my goal. Having Bjorn on the bench was also something for me – a dream come true. So I just felt like the right place, the right time to do it. Put a lot of work into the letter and through my words – it created a lot of stress in my life, but I’m happy that people accepted that message in a more positive way than I ever thought it would.
Schett: How long would it take you to write that letter to put the words on the paper?
Federer: 25 takes and two weeks, you know, and just at one point, when you have a deadline, it’s good. You just have to just push send – this is it.
Schett: You get a double check Mirka?
Federer: Yeah, of course. You show it around and then of course everybody has something to say, what do you call it? too many cooks? So of course you go back and forth and back and forth. So for me, that was it was emotional, but it was good to me to go through that because it allowed me to look back at my career and think of what I wanted to say, which then has prepared me for interviews as well, which I thought was gonna be really, really hard for me to do and very emotional – ever since I know about the decision but I think that’s why I can sit here in a more relaxed way.
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Schett: I just wanted to ask you so when exactly did that decision happen? You know, did you just wake up one morning and say, ‘okay, okay, this is it’. How does it work? When did it become final? That decision? You said a few months ago?
Federer: Yes. So I remember seeing me at Wimbledon probably, which was a tough walk for me to do. Injured trying to rehab trying to come back. I don’t know. I’m still active but not having played but I’m really really happy I went to Wimbledon. On court I said ‘I hope to see you next year’ and I really believed that. So in the weeks and the days that followed that, I could really feel my knee wasn’t doing what I wanted to do anymore. And this is when I realised I’m at a crossroads now where I have to decide, do I risk it all or do I am just actually happy you know. I always said I was on borrowed time. The ice was very thin at that point, any hiccup I knew could mean the end and I just decided that that was it. And that moment was very emotional -it was very sad for me.
Schett: Did you know that was the last time you would be walking out on Centre Court?
Federer: No, no, I knew it could be but I still had hopes that I could come back. I am sure a lot of players were emotional. It was a beautiful celebration. That’s why I was happy to be there. But when I left the court I didn’t feel like that’s for sure it – you know that’s not the reason why I came to Wimbledon and I just felt it was important my presence and the respect to the club.
Schett: There’s a little story I probably never told you. I can’t remember totally. I had the privilege to play alongside you for many years. And there was one point in I think it was 98 or I don’t know when you play the juniors at the Australian Open 98. And I was playing doubles with Cathy(??). She was late to meet me and then he rocks up like 15 minutes late and I said ‘where have you been, you know you’re never late’. And she said ‘I watched this junior called Roger Federer’ and I said ‘is he any good any good?’ She said ‘he plays like the Pete Sampras’ and I said ‘Cathy are you drunk. What’s wrong with you?’ I did not believe her. And there you go, she it saw then. And I just wanted to tell you that that story.
Federer: Yeah. Mirka had a similar situation where she saw me play club tennis and she said ‘this guy’s apparently a new superstar tennis player? I don’t think so. He’s behaving too bad for that.’ But I have a lot of those moments where people saw me play. I was a rough diamond.
Schett: Reflecting now on to your career – it’s been such a successful career. What are you most proud of like, not just tennis, but as a human being as well because I feel like when you reflect you don’t define yourself just on what success you’ve had.
Federer: I feel like since my announcement, I was expecting to [sic]…a great career or won a lot of matches won there’s won that but it was also very much based on who I am who I was, what I represent for the game. And that I appreciate because I am very down to earth, I think – I tried to be as normal as possible, as authentic as possible. And I will try to stay the same way for as long as possible. Not an easy thing to do in the public eye to be honest, because there’s cameras more and more now. And it’s hard to escape private moments, you know, but I feel I’ve managed that part really well. And to stay happy throughout to be in that public eye. Of course I was really excited again, going away from that public eye and just going home and being with my family being with my friends. For me, that meant everything and I needed that balance between them jumping back into the mix and say like, okay, here is Roger Federer, the tennis player again, but the moment I would leave the site or the match or tennis court, I’d be the normal Roger and I think that’s what kept me mentally sane throughout the last 20/30 years.
Schett: Yeah, and that’s what I feel like when I look at you because I like to take you know, when the successful people, I like to take that success away. And for example, I take that tennis part away what’s left of the person actually? Yeah, there’s a lot of happiness there., that’s the most important thing right?
Federer: I think we had a good time doing it. Of course we live through years where you win you leave, win, you leave and you keep on travelling and try to manage the best you can – you make wrong decisions, right decisions, and take different turns along the way. And then all of a sudden, bang, you’re 25 or something and you realise I don’t know how much more I have left, you know, in the game. In 2008 when I didn’t feel so well at the beginning of the year, I went skiing and I haven’t skied since because I thought that was at the end of my career. You know, potentially in three, four or five years so I stopped skiing and I have not skied in 15 years. For me that’s the moment when I said I have to start savouring and celebrating victories more. The small sometimes the wins are, or big or small the titles are, you never know it’s going to be your last. Not that you have to live your life like this, but at least take a split second more, five minutes more here, an hour more here a day more here, a week more here. And just all that you can then start enjoying the process way more and I had a wonderful last 10/15 years of my career.
Schett: Did that just come up on your own?
Federer: I think it was really a lot [of chats] with the team and especially Mirka: Because no problem when you’re young, you know, pack up go and organise bang, bang. You have to do it to make the most of it and ride the wave, you know, of success. But at some point, you realise it’s fun, but winning alone is a little empty, you know you need a little bit more to it. And ‘can we not stay here tonight to have dinner with our friends and we’re here’ it doesn’t matter it was one person who’s here or 15. Let’s have a nice dinner and let’s take the time then we leave in the morning. Yes, it’s a bit compromised preparation for the next event. But I think it’s worth it and it was worth it. And I really feel now for the last few years we have made so many wonderful friends around the world but also stayed in touch with great friends in Switzerland that having been [?] hurt on our retirement it doesn’t feel so scary because I know there’s going to be loads of people that were looking forward to seeing
Schett: Oh, sure. I’m not worried about that all. Let’s go back to some tennis moments now. You played some amazing matches and I know it’s hard to pick out one but which match are you the most proud of where feel like you played the best tennis ever? You gotta give me one I know it’s difficult.
Federer: I haven’t really gone back to that and thought let me look through the list until like this is the one that gets the star on the side. For me special is the US Open final against Leyton Hewitt, where I went 6-0 7-6 6-0 – it does not happen like that in Grand Slam finals – where you take off like that in the first set, have a wobble in the second set but then you dominate in the third again. For me that match was perfect. I was on top of the world. I think it was my third slam. World number one and showed the world that I was a deserving world number one and it was against a guy who I respect so much and hope I see him again soon. But I really struggled early on in my career and then to end up there to me felt like a perfect storm, you know, and I feel like if I looked back I would almost like to play that match again.
Schett: The biggest heartbreak on the tennis courts?
Federer: Probably Wimbledon 2008. Just because the way it ended in the darkness with Rafa: There was so much on the line. It needed a winner. And it went his way. And it was heartbreak.
Schett: That was just an amazing rivalry. Now, just one word on the Laver Cup this weekend. I mean, this is the last dance you know, you put a request in with Bjorn that you want to play doubles, right? How excited are you about that? You’re gonna be super nervous, right? How do you want to play with?
Federer: Of course I’m nervous. People don’t think I am but I haven’t played forever. I hope that my level is going to be somewhat okay. My God, you know, people probably expect me to play super top normal level but that’s not going to happen. So I really just hope it’s going to be somewhat okay. I can’t play singles at all. That’s one of the reasons there was no way I was going to play Basel. For me it’s too much for the body right now. I had to start slowing things down as well – once I realised that my career was coming to an end. Of course, I’d love to play with Rafa: We’ll see if it’s going to happen this week. We will speak to Bjorn and Rafa about it. I think it would be a beautiful moment two rivals getting together at the very end and having done one more match together on the same side is going to be very special. I’m really looking forward to the weekend and I think having Borg on the bench as well is gonna be so cool. So nice spending time with him again and everybody on the team so it’s, it’s going to be special so having Novak there and Andy there, Rudd and Tsitsipas, Norrie and Berretini. It is going to be great. I am really looking forward to it.
Schett: I think this is going to be the biggest weekend in tennis history.