By Simon Briggs
Roger Federer has admitted that the realization that he would never win the Wimbledon title again brought him to tears last summer.
The 41-year-old, who announced last week that he would retire after the ongoing Laver Cup, revealed he had broken down after losing to Felix Auger Aliassime in preparation for his final Wimbledon in 2021.
He fed on the majesty of his serve, and was still able to step up and win short points. But when his opponent got the upper hand in the rally, he couldn’t return the balls for long.
“When I lost to Felix in Halle [in June 2021]I cried after the match [as] I knew I wasn’t going to win Wimbledon,” explained Federer. “You get to a certain point where you create too many moments against certain players who are at a good level, where you have to defend. [But] nothing remains on the defensive. So I had to play extra offensively and just try to get through the games that way.”
It may seem strange to imagine Federer – the male record holder for the most Wimbledon titles – having to “slam” his way through matches, especially on grass. But looking back at Wimbledon in 2021, he needed a bit of help in his first-round encounter with an awkward Adrian Mannarino, only making it when Mannarino fell and sprained his knee while leading two sets to one.
After more encouraging victories over Richard Gasquet, Cameron Norrie and Lorenzo Sone, Federer ended his singles career in the quarterfinals, where he was stopped in straight sets by Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz.
It’s a testament to the ruthlessness of the sport that Federer collapsed with a 6-0 run, just as Donald Bradman recorded a duck in the 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 terrible,” Federer said. “It was over, the knee was gone, and then it was really hard to know that I had to deal with the media in a short amount of time right after. But to me it is what it is. You know you can’t go back in time and say, ‘Oh, we should change that.’
“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 three more slams, including that comeback win in 2017 in Australia.
“Having had good experience with my left, I thought, ‘Okay, my right is a very similar operation. We’ll do it and maybe I’ll get another chance.” See, that wasn’t the case and obviously the last three years have been pretty tough. You deal with it. I am going through rehab, daily progress is small, but I want to be healthy for the rest of my life. So it was definitely worth it.”
Federer has admitted he regrets his decision to undergo surgery on his right knee in February 2020. Despite the best part of an 18-month rehab, he told reporters at the O2 Arena this week, he has never regained the fluid movement he once had.
“When I came back [from the 2020 Australian Open] “I was so unhappy with my knee and I’ve been miserable for a couple of years,” explained Federer. “So maybe I shouldn’t have this procedure in retrospect. But then maybe it could happen that it would play and it would crack at some point.
“At that moment I was 100 percent sure it was the right thing to do. I had an operation which was successful and then in six weeks I have to have another one because something is wrong again. I mean, you just can’t predict these things. There is always a risk when you open something. That’s why I’ve always said, ‘When you have surgery, it’s the beginning of the end.'”