HomeSportsSports NewsFederer documentary delves into final days of career

Federer documentary delves into final days of career

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At one point during Asif Kapadia and Joe Sabia’s new 90-minute documentary, the microphone picks up Roger Federer’s long-time coach Severin Luthi observing that “athletes die twice”.

That line is a central theme of Roger Federer: Twelve Final Days, which documents the period between the Swiss tennis great’s retirement announcement and his final match in September 2022.

After a 25-year professional career, during which he played 1,750 competitive matches and won 20 Grand Slam singles titles, Federer’s final on-court appearance took place at the Laver Cup.

With tearful speeches, tributes, and appearances from legends such as Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg, the occasion was a celebration, but also a way of saying goodbye to the then 40-year-old’s career.

Towards the end of the film, the tennis legend admits that thoughts of retirement had been accompanied by a troubling question: “What happens next?”

After Federer had made his decision to bow out, director Sabia was given behind-the-scenes access to the athlete’s family and team for this sensitive period.

Kapadia, who directed films on Ayrton Senna and Diego Maradona, was later brought on board to co-direct and add archive footage.

Here are a few takeaways from the documentary.

Federer’s wife Mirka found it painful to watch his decline

Injury ultimately forced Federer to call time on his career. Between 2020 and 2022, he had three knee operations, making it to only three of the 11 Grand Slams staged in that time. During that period, he saw his record of 20 Grand Slams surpassed by both Rafael Nadal, who has 22, and Djokovic, who has won 24.

His lowest ebb was a 2021 Wimbledon quarter-final loss to Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz. Federer, who once spent a record 237 consecutive weeks as world number one, had by then sunk to ninth in the world rankings.

After a match where he made 31 unforced errors, he traipsed off court, clearly disillusioned with his uncharacteristic performance.

During the documentary, Federer says that his wife Mirka “almost wanted to look the other way” while he was struggling and that it was only after he had told her he was retiring that he realised how much she had been suffering.

He wasn’t ‘fully convinced’ by Djokovic when they first played

Novak Djokovic hits a backhand against Roger Federer, 2006.IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES

Image caption: Federer first faced a then 19-year-old Djokovic in 2006

Between July 2005 and August 2009, Federer and Nadal occupied the top two places in ATP rankings.

However, a new pretender to the throne emerged towards the end of that period.

Novak Djokovic won his first Grand Slam at the Australian Open in 2008 and was ranked number one for the first time in July 2011. Since then, he has surpassed both of his rivals’ achievements.

However, when Federer first faced Djokovic in 2006 in Monte Carlo, the 42-year-old says he was not “fully convinced”, despite “hype” around the young Serb.

“I think I didn’t give Novak the respect he deserved because of his technical flaws,” says Federer, adding, “I felt like Novak had a very extreme forehand grip and his backhand for me wasn’t as fluid as it is nowadays.”

He does go on to say that Djokovic “ironed out” those flaws to become “an unbelievable monster of a player”.

‘It’s not my personality’

Federer has been lauded for his graceful style of play, as well as the lightness with which he wears his success.

However, during one scene, the former world number one addresses the charge sometimes levelled at him that that he does not always fight hard enough when losing.

“I didn’t quite understand what that meant,” says Federer, adding, “do I have to grunt, do I have to sweat more, do I have to shout more, do I have to be more aggressive towards my opponents?”

He goes on to say, “I tried, but it was all an act,” adding, “it’s not my personality”.

Nadal says it’s ‘painful’ to know he’ll never have the feeling of facing Federer again

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal both cry after Federer's final professional match at the 2022 Rod Laver Cup.IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES

Image caption: The tears continued as cameras followed Federer and Nadal into the dressing room at the Laver Cup

No one is more entwined with Federer’s career than Nadal. The pair played one another 40 times between 2004-2019 and shared a brilliant rivalry.

They are also great friends off the court. Federer says in one scene: “I think it’s possible to play tough and fair, but at the side be friendly.”

Federer’s final professional appearance saw him pair with Nadal in a doubles match at the 2022 Laver Cup and both were in floods of tears afterwards.

Federer says during final scenes that he knew Mirka and “the Rafa angle” would be the things that set him off crying during his farewell.

Meanwhile, Nadal says of Federer that his legacy would “stay in the world of sport forever” and that we will never again see “any player with that flow, with that perfection, that elegance”.

Elsewhere, he says that the feeling of playing against Federer in a Grand Slam final is “a different atmosphere” and a “different kind of pressure”. He admits that it feels “painful” to know he will “not have that feeling again”.

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