Roger Federer’s classy farewell reminds others how it should be done

Roger Federer's farewell

We all knew it would be emotional, but maybe this was a step ahead of what we expected.

The celebration of Roger Federer’s final match at the end of his illustrious career needed to be lavish to debut a sporting giant who transcended the sport of tennis long ago.

Yet as the great man began to speak and the tears began to flow for him, the rest of us present at the 02 Arena simply couldn’t hold back any longer.

His great rival Rafael Nadal was in tears, long-time foe Novak Djokovic joined him in losing control of his emotions and Andy Murray was also watery-eyed.

This was a send-off befitting a king and it highlighted how an exit from a glorious sporting career can be conducted in a classy manner.

Compare Federer’s farewell with that of Serena Williams at the US Open and you observe a very different route to an exit.

While Serena was happy to be heralded onto court with glossy videos and billboards hailing her as ‘the greatest of all-time’ for three successive nights at Flushing Meadows.

All of her interviews included numerous mentions of herself in the first person, with Serena’s reputation for seeking out the spotlight highlighted by a week of ceremony that confirmed she wants to be the star of the show.

Federer’s finale was very different, as he encouraged all his Laver Cup team-mates to join him on court as he waved farewell, along with his wife Mirka, four children, parents, and former coaches.

Stefan Edberg’s presence as part of the 02 Arena cast list will have meant a lot to Federer as his former coach was also his idol when he was growing up and this felt very much like a shared experience rather than a moment to hog the limelight for himself.

“I think the message from me was just making sure I relay my passion for the sport to the fans,” he said after his final match.

“I have no plans whatsoever, where, how, when. All I know, I would love to go and play places I have never played before or go say thank you for years to come to all the people that have been so supportive of me.

“The hard part about the Laver Cup was that tickets were already sold out. The people who maybe would have also loved to be here couldn’t make it.

“Everyone’s here, the boys and girls. My wife has been so supportive. She could have stopped me a long, long time ago but she didn’t. She kept me going and allowed me to play, so it’s amazing – thank you.

“It’s funny, we always blame my mum for everything because without her I wouldn’t be here of course. Thanks to my parents, they’ve been amazing.

“Just everybody, there are too many people to thank. It’s been incredible.”

“Maybe there is another way down the stretch we can party all together.”

Together was a word that summed up Federer’s farewell and in an individual sport that is not always easy to relate to.

Yet part of his appeal has always been the reality that it feels like he wants you to be on the journey with him.

Fans around the world loved Federer for many reasons, with his glorious brand of tennis and sparkling shot-making skills hard to dislike.

Yet it was his humility away from the court that added to a package that made him, undoubtedly, the most popular player the sport has ever seen.

Every time Federer stepped on a court anywhere in the world, it was a home match as the fans cheered his each and every winner and hoped his opponent might slip up.

The annual ATP Fans’ Favorite award has been dominated by Federer for a decade and even if you are more of a fan of Nadal or Djokovic, the scenes we witnessed on Friday night must have moved you.

We all have our favorites in sport, but if you are a true lover tennis, you had to love Federer.

He avoided controversy throughout his career, conducted himself immaculately and got to the end of the tennis road with a record that will stand the test of time.

The debate over who should be hailed as the greatest of all-time can be skewed by your own bias, but Federer pulled tennis into the 21st century and dragged the likes of Nadal, Djokovic and Murray with him to take the sport to ridiculous levels of excellence.

Nadal and Djokovic must have looked on as they shed tears with Federer and took lessons from how they should end their careers, with all in tennis hoping those days are still some way in the distance.

After all, we need time to recover after saying farewell to Federer and as the curtain fell on his story on a never-to-be-forgotten night in London, we could all unite in one message: Thank You Roger.