Thousands of tennis lovers will be brushing away the tears this weekend as Roger Federer plays his final professional match in London, yet while his retirement is sure to cast a shadow over the sport, he is determined not to disappear from public life in the manner of some other Wimbledon champions – notably Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf.
Instead, he said that he is tempted to return to the Championships as a commentator.
“Funnily enough, I always thought I’ll never go on the journalist side and that commentary would never be a thing for me,” Federer told reporters at the O2 Arena in south-east London. “But six months ago, or maybe more, I was thinking, ‘Oh, you know what? Commentating the odd match or giving back in this way, I guess I could imagine it.’ I was like, ‘What? I can’t even believe I’m saying that.’”
In another, earlier conversation with Swiss media, Federer had specifically identified Wimbledon as the tournament he imagined himself working on – even though he didn’t identify a preferred broadcaster.
The BBC would appear to be one natural partner, especially as they lost one of their most iconic voices from the commentary box this year when Boris Becker – a three-time champion on Centre Court – was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail for hiding assets in his bankruptcy proceedings. Becker is still serving out his sentence at Huntercombe Prison in Oxfordshire.
“Having past players or champions commentate is important,” said Federer. “That’s why I’ve always loved having Johnny Mac [McEnroe] around, [Mats] Wilander, you name it, Chrissie Evert. It’s super important because they give you the insight, they tell you how it used to be or how they felt. And I think sometimes you watch matches because of the commentary and less about the match itself.”
When asked if he had been in touch with Tim Henman, another BBC regular with whom he shared an agent in his younger days, Federer replied “I have actually not. I still want to speak to him since announcing. He wrote me of course, but yeah, [I wanted to] get some advice if I should [go into commentary] or not. Or if he thinks I would be terrible.”
Federer – who turned 41 last month – plans to make his final appearance on Friday night at the O2 Arena, probably as part of a doubles team alongside long-time rival Rafael Nadal, having not previously appeared on a professional tennis court since the Wimbledon quarter-finals of 2021. After three operations, he believes that his right knee is no longer strong enough for him to challenge for big titles and he feels anxiety about pushing it in case he does further damage. One of his immediate ambitions for his post-tennis life is to go skiing in his native Switzerland with his two pairs of twins. Charlene and Myla are both 13, while Leo and Lennart are both eight. Federer himself hasn’t been on the slopes since 2008.
“I get scared going too far,” Federer explained, when asked whether his knee becomes painful when he trains. “I don’t want to bang it up and make it go completely crazy, which you can. The more hurt you’ve been, the more surgeries you’ve had, the more scared you get with everything and that’s hard at one point to get it out of your head as a player.”
Tickets for this weekend’s Laver Cup – an annual team event that Federer himself instigated in 2017 – have been selling for five-figure sums since he announced last week that it would be his final event. But those attending four out of the five sessions will have to make do with a glimpse of their hero supporting his team-mates from the sidelines. Plus, perhaps, a quick on-court interview.
“This city has been special to me,” said Federer. “Maybe the most special place with Wimbledon down the road and here at the O2 [which staged the ATP Finals for 12 seasons during his heyday]. Having played here and qualified for so many years and won here as well. I just thought it was very fitting.”
Federer had originally intended to visit the All England Club in person this week, but his planned date – Sept 19 – was overtaken by events when it was chosen for the Queen’s funeral. “Then I thought maybe I could go Monday after [the Laver Cup],” he said, still unwilling to come within 15 miles of Centre Court without dropping in.
“So I still have to see if I’m going to do that. I don’t know what the plans are at the moment, but that was definitely an idea as well to tie it all together with the Club.” In retirement, as throughout his career, Wimbledon remains a priority.