Roger Federer retires: Swiss great played tennis with a balletic grace beyond modern compare

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I was barely a month into this job when I suggested Roger Federer would never win another Grand Slam title.

The then 17-time Grand Slam champion had just turned 32, lost to Sergiy Stakhovsky in the second round of Wimbledon (thus ending a run of 36 consecutive major quarter-finals), and then in straight sets to Tommy Robredo in the last 16 of the US Open.

Put it down, perhaps, to the impetuosity of inexperience, and also to unawareness of a significant back problem, which Federer later detailed.

Not that it was remotely controversial, nine years ago, to suggest the best days of a tennis player in their thirties might be behind them. It is just that since then Federer and Serena Williams, with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic now following their lead, have overturned convention and expectation.

“I get inspired in a big way by the likes of Usain Bolt or Michael Jordan or LeBron James or Valentino Rossi or Michael Schumacher: guys who did things for a very long time at the highest of levels,” he told me after winning an eighth Wimbledon title, a month before turning 36, in 2017.

“I would marvel at what they did when I was younger. I couldn’t understand how they would get match ready day in day out, practise every single day and how they would give it 100%. I struggled with that in a big way when I was younger.”

Federer also struggled with his fitness and his temper – racquet throwing, tears and profanities were not at all uncommon in his teenage years. But two new relationships forged in 2000 made quite a difference.

He started working with the fitness coach Pierre Paganini, whom he had first met at the Swiss national training centre a few years earlier. The partnership has endured for Federer’s entire career.

And he also met Mirka, who would become his wife nine years later. They both represented Switzerland at that year’s Sydney Olympics, and played mixed doubles together at the 2002 Hopman Cup. Mirka’s career was ended by a foot injury later that year, but she swiftly became the “rock” in his life.

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