There is so much to remember about Roger Federer, the tennis player, and so much to be missed now that he announced his retirement on social media on Thursday at age 41.
Federer has not played since Wimbledon last year and has been trying to recover from two right knee surgeries since.
"As many of you know, the past three years have presented me with challenges in the form of injuries and surgeries. I’ve worked hard to return to full competitive form,“ said Federer, who is home in Switzerland. “But I also know my body’s capacities and limits, and its message to me lately has been clear.”
Federer's effortless athleticism, his lethal groundstrokes, his bewildering serve propelled him to GOAT status among men's players that will forever define him within his sport.
But Roger Federer transcended tennis. He was one of the world’s best known athletes, universally adored for not just his 20 Grand Slam titles and 103 tournament victories, but for his grace and charm and wit and generosity.
Paul Annacone got to know him up close and personal. Annacone, originally from East Hampton, is a former ATP Tour player and winner who went on to coaching at the highest level, including American icon Pete Sampras and later Federer from 2010 into 2013, a span that included an Australian Open and Wimbledon title for Federer.
On Thursday, Annacone had all manner of praise for Federer’s game and his devotion to tennis. And all manner of praise for the person he is.
"One of the most unique people I've ever met,” said Annacone, who along with his coaching is a long-time Tennis Channel commentator. “Talent is one thing, but to combine it with a zest for life and humility and grace? Not sure we'll see this again.
“He enjoyed life, he enjoyed who he was as an icon and accepted the responsibilities of what that means. This is hard to do. People think it’s easy, you get so many perks etc., but you also get almost zero free time and live life under a microscope. It sounds easy, but it’s not. He embraced it all and loved it. He treats people like they deserve to be treated regardless of their fame, fortune or social standing. Robby and Lynette did an amazing job as parents, and that's because they, too, are incredible people.”
Federer, as player and person, was complete. His game was superb and routinely dazzling. Off the court, he is said to be a highly devoted father to his two sets of twins, girls and boys, who he had with his wife, Mirka. His charitable activities are numerous and hands-on, including work with underprivileged children in Africa.
Of course, we all know him through his extraordinary efforts on the court, where he didn’t appear to run. Rather he glided, reaching a ball without his feet seeming to touch the ground and always in perfect position to unleash that smashing forehand or that wicked, one-handed backhand.
And many might forget what a terrific server he was, third all-time in aces with 11,478, behind big bombers John Isner (13,960) and Ivo Karlovic (13,728).
“One of the best disguised serves in the business,” Annacone said. “Hit targets as good as anyone, and his first shot after the serve was lethal with that forehand — a pretty solid combo.”
There was his absolute devotion to the game, something at the start of his career that did not always appear to be there. But he became almost obsessed with developing and improving. Annacone remembers sitting with Federer the night before the Australian Open final in 2017 against Rafael Nadal, Federer’s most lethal opponent. He was 35 then and coming back from another injury, his right knee and back giving him significant problems over the latter stages of his career. Still he carried on.
“Obviously, Rafa has had great success against Roger, so I said to him what am I going to see today,” Annacone said. “And he said this is going to be fun and I'm going to enjoy it — I am going to be swinging and playing my game start to finish.
“So when he got down 3-1 in the fifth and won those last five games to win the title and was able to play ‘his game’ in that moment, that was the execution of his game, and that really is all he's ever wanted to do. It's been a treat to watch poetry in motion.”
While I covered the U.S. Open during Federer’s five straight victories at Flushing Meadow from 2004 to 2008, I never did speak to him personally. He was always very forthcoming and generous with his time in the news conferences, always willing to answer questions even after stinging defeats, always evincing a smile.
“You get what you see,” Annacone said. “Just a lovely guy who appreciates his life, loves tennis and is so genuine with people, that it is almost off-putting. You feel he should be different, but he's just . . . Roger.”
Roger Federer was a near perfect tennis player, so here are 10 numbers that offer a snapshot of his brilliant career (from high to low):
Singles wins, second to Jimmy Connors' 1,274
Grand Slam match wins, first all-time
Consecutive weeks atop ATP rankings (Feb. 2, 2004-Aug. 17, 2008), first all-time
Tour-level titles, second to Connors' 109
Percentage of service games won
Grand Slam finals, second to Novak Djokovic's 32
Grand Slam titles, third all-time
Wimbledon singles titles, first all-time
Number of matches retired from