Is Roger Federer on brink of retiring? Tennis has to get to grips with losing its greatest player

When Roger Federer turned 40 earlier this month, it was a reminder that tennis’ most prized possession is very much at the tail end of his career.
Roger Federer is facing months on the sidelines due to knee surgery, and he will not be back on a tennis court this year.Roger Federer is facing months on the sidelines due to knee surgery, and he will not be back on a tennis court this year.
Roger Federer is facing months on the sidelines due to knee surgery, and he will not be back on a tennis court this year.

However, most of his large following across the world were expecting to see him compete at the US Open at the end of the month, after he made the quarter-finals of Wimbledon and showed he could still be competitive despite his advancing years.

Now, though, we will not see the Swiss until 2022 – and even then, that is not a given. Federer is going back under the knife, opting for surgery on his troublesome knee. "I'll be on crutches for many weeks and also out of the game for many months," he said in a very sombre Instagram post.

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The mood did not get any better the longer the clip went on. “I want to be healthy, I want to be running around later as well again and I want to give myself a glimmer of hope to return to the tour in some shape or form,” the 20-times Grand Slam champion said. "I am realistic. Don't get me wrong, I know how difficult it is at this age to do another surgery and try it.”

Federer has had operations before and returned to near full health, but this time, it feels different. He has looked more weary of late, finding it harder to take care of players he used to swat aside with relative ease. When he was bundled out of the last eight at SW19 this year by Hubert Hurkacz, Federer trudged off Centre Court with the aura of a man with a lot on his mind.

The mention of a “glimmer of hope” has set alarm bells ringing. Federer is often the eternal optimist, but this latest update to his followers did not come across positively.

For the first time, we are talking seriously about the great Roger Federer retiring.

It is clear that Federer is sacrificing the rest of 2021 so he can, at best, return in January next year for the Australian Open. A final swansong at Wimbledon, where he was won the men’s singles title a record-setting eight times, must be his end-game. He would want to bid the fondest of farewells on the court, rather than off it. Federer has always been a good healer and is meticulous with his rehabilitation work. He will give it every shot.

Take a look at Federer’s stats and his impact on tennis is incredible. He’s won 1,251 career matches out of 1,526, and six Australian Opens, five US Opens and one French Open allied to his Wimbledon crowns. He’s made 36 consecutive appearances in grand slam quarter-finals, been the oldest world No.1 in the history of the rankings and has earned $130,594,339 – not including the many more millions from sponsorship and endorsements.

He would leave the most gaping of voids, but tennis is facing up to a massive changing of the guard. Federer’s arch rival, Rafael Nadal, now 35, is also carrying a long-standing knee injury and may miss the US Open, while our own Andy Murray’s battles with his hip and other ailments are well-documented. Only one of the three “big four”, Novak Djokovic, can plan for a number of years on the tour.

We can only hope we see Federer on court again, for a final look at his grace, class and swashbuckling shot-making. But like Murray, and others of this great tennis generation, the end feels nigh.

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