Tennis genius and world’s most respected sports legend | Sunday Observer
Roger Federer :

Tennis genius and world’s most respected sports legend

2 October, 2022
Federer during his farewell Match
Federer during his farewell Match

“Tonight was all happiness,” said maestro Roger Federer after playing his final match with Rafael Nadal as partner at the Laver Cup on September 23, 2022. The fans, competitors, coaches, friends and family thronged to the 02 Arena in London to watch the player with the greatest tennis record in history. After bidding an emotional farewell to his glorious career, Federer tearfully embraced his wife and four children.

Federer also known for his kindness and generosity, announced his retirement just eight days earlier, ending an artistic trail of 20 men’s Grand Slam singles titles and thirty-one appearances in Grand Slam finals that stoked a global popularity that often made him seem more a citizen of Earth than just of Switzerland. That incredible duration began at 16 in 1998 in Gstaad, Switzerland and ended at 39 in 2021 at Wimbledon in London.

The four Grand Slam tournaments in tennis are the Australian Open in January on hard court, the French Open in May-June on clay, Wimbledon in June-July on grass and the US Open in August–September on hard court. Wimbledon is the oldest, founded in 1877, followed by the US in 1881, the French in 1891 and the Australian in 1905. In 2011, Federer was ranked No. 2, behind Nelson Mandela in the Reputation Institute’s study of the “World’s Most Respected, Admired, and Trusted Personalities.” In 2019, he was voted the “Most Stylish Man of the Decade.” In 2020, the Tennis Channel ranked him the “Greatest Male Tennis Player of All Time.” During his career, Federer has been served with countless Guinness World Records, of which he held thirty on retirement.

The author was privileged to meet Federer at the Opening Ceremony of Athens 2004 Olympic Games when Sri Lanka marched just behind Switzerland in the ‘Parade of Nations’ and watch him play at London 2012 Olympics. Federer was the Flag bearer at both 2004 and 2008 Olympics. His 310 weeks at No. 1 was unique, of which he reigned as No. 1 for 237 consecutive weeks from 2004 to 2008. He is the first to reach ten consecutive men’s singles Grand Slam finals.

Federer holds the record for the most Wimbledon Gentlemen’s Singles titles with eight. He also dominated the other Grand Slam tournaments, winning the Australian Open six times, the US Open a record five times and the French Open once. Federer announced his decision to retire from tennis, after confirming that his recovery from right knee surgery, in 2021, had not been as good as he had hoped.

Federer said: “I have worked hard to return to full competitive form, but I also know my body’s capacities and limits - and its message to me lately has been clear. I am 41 years old. I have played more than 1,500 matches over 24 years. Tennis has treated me more generously than I ever would have dreamt. And now I must recognize when it is time to end my competitive career.”

Federer played some of the sport’s most revered matches, including his classic with Pete Sampras in 2001 Wimbledon, his five-set with Rafael Nadal in 2008 Wimbledon final, his five-set with Andy Roddick in 2009 Wimbledon final, his five-set with Rafael Nadal in 2017 Australian Open final that marked a renaissance for Federer and his five-set with Novak Djokovic at 2019 Wimbledon.

Federer met Swiss tennis star Miroslava Vavrinec at the Sydney 2000 Olympics while competing for Switzerland and married her. Roger and “Mirka” as she is affectionately known are blessed with twin daughters – Charlene Riva and Myla Rose in 2009, and twin sons - Leo and Lenny in 2014. Federer revealed that he never sleeps without his wife by his side, admitting that his wife, children and friends come first, despite his passion for the sport.

Birth and early career

Federer was born on August 8, 1981 in Basel, Switzerland. His Swiss-German father, Robert Federer is from the Canton of St. Gallen, and his mother, Lynette Federer is from Gauteng in South Africa. He has one sister, Diana. Federer holds both Swiss and South African citizenship.

He grew up close to the French and German borders, and speaks Swiss German, Standard German, English and French fluently. His native language is Swiss German. He was a ball boy at his hometown tournament, the Swiss Indoors in 1992 and 1993. He also credits his hand-eye coordination to the wide range of sports he played as a child, including badminton and basketball.

Federer played his first junior match in 1996 at age 14. At 1998 Wimbledon, he won both the boys’ singles and doubles. He reached the 1998 US Open Junior final. Federer won four ITF junior singles tournaments, including the prestigious Orange Bowl. He was awarded 1998 ITF junior World Champion. He ended his junior career as No. 1 in singles.

At age 16, Federer made his ATP debut at the 1998 Swiss Open and later won his first ATP match in Toulouse. Federer made his debut Davis Cup in 1999 at 17. His first final came at the 2000 Marseille Open and made his Olympic debut at Sydney 2000 with the singles and surprised many by reaching the semi-finals.

Federer recorded his first singles victory at the 2001 Milan Indoor and reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the 2001 French Open. His international breakthrough came at the 2001 Wimbledon, where he played the all-time Grand Slam leader Pete Sampras. The 2002 Miami Masters was his first Masters’final. At the 2002 Hamburg Masters, Federer won his first Master Series and rose to ATP ranking No. 6.

Professional career progression

2003: Federer won his first Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon and ended the year as world No. 2.

2004: At Athens 2004 Olympic Games, Federer was the clear favourite but he failed losing both the singles and doubles in the second round. Federer won three Grand Slam singles and became the first to do so in one season since Mats Wilander in 1988. His first, the Australian Open, made him the world No. 1 for the first time. He also won Wimbledon, the US Open and his first on home soil, the Swiss Open. His eleven singles titles were the most by any player in two decades, and his record of 74–6 was the best. He reached the year-end No. 1 ranking for the first time.

2005: Federer won Wimbledon and the US Open and kept his position as No. 1. He won eleven singles and his eighty-one match victories were the most since Pete Sampras in 1993, and his record of 81–4 (95.2%) stays the third-best winning percentage in the Open Era behind John McEnroe’s 1984 and Jimmy Connors’s 1974.

2006: Statistically 2006 was the best season of Federer’s career. He became the first man in history to achieve Wimbledon-US Open double for three consecutive seasons. He won twelve singles titles, the most by any player since Thomas Muster in 1995 and John McEnroe in 1984. Also, he had a match record of 92–5, the most wins since Ivan Lendl in 1982. Federer reached the finals in an astounding sixteen of the seventeen tournaments. He was the first to reach all four Grand Slam singles finals in a calendar year since Rod Laver in 1969. He won Wimbledon, the Australian Open, and the US Open and finished the year as world No. 1, winning forty-eight of his last forty-nine matches. He won the Swiss Indoors for the first time.

2007: Federer reached all four Grand Slam singles finals. He won the Australian Open, becoming the first in the 21st century to win a Grand Slam without the loss of a set. After capturing his fourth Dubai crown, his winning streak stood at 41, the longest of his career. At Wimbledon final, Federer defeated Rafael Nadal in a thrilling encounter that analysts hailed as the greatest Wimbledon final since 1980. Victory at Wimbledon equalled him with Bjorn Borg for the record of five consecutive championships. Federer finished the season winning 11 Grand Slam singles. After his phenomenal triple Grand Slam season, yet again, Federer became the only player in history to win three majors in a year for three years (2004, 2006 and 2007).

2008: At Beijing 2008 Olympics, Federer was again the top seed and favourite and he won the gold in men’s doubles with compatriot Stan Wawrinka but lost the singles in the quarterfinals.

2009: Federer turned his sights to Wimbledon, where he breezed his way up to the final, his 15th Grand Slam singles, breaking the record of Pete Sampras. The Wimbledon final was also historic for being the longest Grand Slam final. Federer finished the season as the year-end No. 1 for the fifth time.

2010: Since 2005 Wimbledon, Federer made eighteen out of nineteen finals in Grand Slams, a period of sustained excellence unparalleled in the Open Era. At the French Open, Federer won his 700th tour match and 150th on clay.

2012: At London 2012 Olympics, Federer won a silver in singles, but failed to defend the doubles. Federer had his most wins since 2006, his highest winning percentage and titles won since 2007.He won the Rotterdam Open, the Dubai Championships, the Indian Wells, the Madrid Masters as well as Wimbledon. “It is amazing. It equals me with Pete Sampras, who is my hero,” Federer said of winning his seventh Wimbledon. He broke Sampras’ record of 286 weeks atop and won the Cincinnati Open and the Shanghai Masters, confirming his 300th week at No. 1.

2017: Statistically, 2017 season was his best since 2007. Federer won the Australian Open. He also won the Indian Wells and the Miami Masters for the third time (2005, 2006 and 2017).At Wimbledon, Federer made it to the final without dropping a set, to win a record eighth Wimbledon, becoming the oldest male champion. Federer then sealed for Europe the inaugural Laver Cup.

2018: Federer won the Hopman Cup and the Australian Open to become the first to win twenty Grand Slams. He won his third Rotterdam Open and returned to No. 1, breaking the ATP record for the longest span between a player’s first and last weeks to reach No. 1 ranking (14 years and 17 days), as well as the longest duration between two successive reigns at No. 1 ranking (5 years and 106 days).

2019: At the Dubai Championships, Federer won his 100th Singles Title. At Wimbledon, Federer reached his record 12th final. Federer at the Swiss Indoors played his 1500th career match and won a record tenth title.

2021: Federer at age 39 became the oldest Wimbledon quarter finalist.


Federer was known for his speed, fluid style, and exceptional shot making. He played from the baseline but was also comfortable at the net, being one of the best volleyers in the game. He had a powerful, accurate smash and very effectively performs rare elements of professional tennis, such as the backhand smash and sky hook, half-volley, jump smash and an aggressive serve return known affectionately as SABR (Sneak Attack By Roger).

Federer’s efficient, deceptively effortless movement around the court and excellent footwork and his wide variety with his forehand were well displayed. Federer played with his signature Wilson Pro Staff RF97 Autograph racquet. Later, Federer added the drop shot to his arsenal and performed a well-disguised one off both wings. Federer at 6ft 1in was also known for his cool demeanour.

Federer won the ATP Player of the Year 5 times; the ITF World Championship 5 times; the ATP Fans’ Favourite award a record 18 times; the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award a record 13 times; the “Swiss Sports Personality of the Year” a record 7 times; the “BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year” four times; the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year Award twice; the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year award 5 times; the Laureus World Comeback of the Year award once.

Federer was ranked among the top eight in the world for 14 years and 2 weeks, from October 14, 2002, until October 31, 2016. At 36 years and 195 days, he became the oldest ATP world No. 1. Federer helped to lead a revival in tennis known by many as the ‘Golden Age.’ On winning the 2009 French Open and completing the career Grand Slam, Federer became the first male tennis player to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2009 and once more in 2017.

Federer nicknamed the “Federer Express” (shortened to “Fed Express” or “FedEx”) was also referred to as “King Roger.” In 2021, his home city of Basel inaugurated a tram, the “Federer-Express.” In 2003, he established the Roger Federer Foundation to help disadvantaged children and to promote their access to education and sport. Since 2004, citing his close ties with South Africa he has been supporting the South Africa-Swiss charity IMBEWU.

In 2005, he auctioned his racquet from his US Open to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina. At the 2005 Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells, Federer arranged an exhibition, “Rally for Relief,” for the victims of the tsunami 2004. He was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador by UNICEF in 2006. Federer arranged a special charity event during the 2010 Australian Open, ‘Hit for Haiti,’ following the earthquake.

The Nadal vs. Federer “Match for Africa” in 2010 raised more than $4 million for their Foundations. In 2011, Federer took part in “Rally for Relief,” to raise money for the victims of the Queensland floods. In 2014, the “Match for Africa 2” between Federer and Stan Wawrinka, raised £850,000 for education projects in Southern Africa.

In 2007, Swiss Post in Basel released a special stamp for Federer. In 2010, Federer was awarded a special stamp by Austria. In 2012, the city of Halle, unveiled “Roger-Federer-Allee” in recognition of Federer’s success at the Gerry Weber Open. In 2016, the city of Biel, named the street in his honour as “1 Allee Roger Federer,” and was ranked No. 1 among the “Most Recognizable People in Switzerland.”

In 2017, Federer received an honorary doctorate from the University of Basel. In 2019, Federer became the first living to be celebrated on Swiss coins. In 2020, Federer was featured by Swiss National Museum in their 100-part chronicle and topped Forbes’s List of the world’s highest paid athletes, with $106.3 million.

Serena Williams described Federer as a “genius” and the “greatest.” Jimmy Connors has described his versatility: “In an era of specialists, you’re either a clay court specialist, a grass court specialist, or a hard-court specialist... or you’re Roger Federer.” In 2021, BBC Sport users picked Federer as the ‘Greatest Male Tennis Player of All Time.’

(The author is an Associate Professor, International Scholar, winner of Presidential Awards and multiple National Accolades for Academic pursuits. He possesses a PhD, MPhil, and double MSc. His email is [email protected])