By Simon Briggs
Roger Federer has admitted the realisation that he would never win another Wimbledon title reduced him to tears last summer.
The 41-year-old, who announced last week that he would be retiring after the ongoing Laver Cup, revealed he broke down after losing to Felix Auger Aliassime in the build-up to his final Wimbledon in 2021.
Feeding off the majesty of his serve, he could still come forward and win short points. But once his opponent gained the upper hand in a rally, he was no longer able to scramble balls back for long.
“When I lost to Felix in Halle [in June 2021], I cried after the match [as] I knew I will not win Wimbledon,” Federer explained. “You come to a certain point where against certain players that are of the good level, you create too many moments of having to defend. [But] there’s nothing left in defence. So I had to play extra offensive and just try to weasel my way through the matches this way.”
It might seem strange to imagine Federer – the male record-holder for Wimbledon titles – having to “weasel his way” through matches, especially on grass. But if we look back at that 2021 Wimbledon, he needed a bit of help in his first-round meeting with the awkward Adrian Mannarino, only moving through when Mannarino fell and sprained his knee while leading by two sets to one.
After more encouraging victories over Richard Gasquet, Cameron Norrie and Lorenzo Sonego, Federer’s singles career ended in the quarter-finals, where Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz stopped him in straight sets.
It is testimony to the ruthlessness of sport that Federer went out with a 6-0 bagel set, just as Donald Bradman registered a duck in his final innings and Usain Bolt pulled a hamstring in the 4x100m relay.
“The end of that match was one of the worst moments of my career because I really felt awful,” said Federer. “It was over, the knee was gone, and then knowing I had to face the media right afterwards in a short amount of time was really hard. But for me, it is what it is. You know you can’t turn back the time and go, ‘Oh, we should have changed this.’
“And that’s why I’m so happy that on my left knee [which had undergone a similar operation four years earlier] I was able to come back and win another three slams, including that comeback win in 2017 in Australia.
“Because I’d had a good experience with my left, I figured, ‘Okay, my right is a very similar surgery. We’ll do that and maybe I’ll get another chance.’ Look, it wasn’t to be, and then obviously the last three years have been pretty tough. You deal with it. Going through rehab, daily progress is small, but I want to be healthy for life. So it was definitely worth it.”
Federer admitted that he regrets his decision to undergo surgery on his right knee in February 2020. As he told reporters at the O2 Arena this week, he has never regained the fluid movement of old, despite the best part of 18 months rehab.
“When I came back [from the 2020 Australian Open] I was so unhappy with my knee and I had been unhappy for several years,” Federer explained. “So maybe doing that surgery, maybe I shouldn’t have in hindsight. But then maybe what could have happened is I would have played and it would have exploded at some moment.
“In that moment, I was 100 per cent convinced it was the right thing to do. I did the surgery, which was successful, and then six weeks later, I have to do another one because something’s wrong again. I mean, this stuff you just can’t predict. There’s always a risk when you open something. That’s why I always said, ‘It’s the beginning of the end once you have had surgery.’”