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Federer reveals how he came to his decision to retire: “I was scared to face the music, I went on vacation and said, OK, this is it”

The Swiss star said a scan just after Wimbledon was the moment when it was clear he could not play on professionally

Roger Federer, 2022, Laver Cup Roger Federer, Laver Cup press conference, 2022

Roger Federer will play his last ever match at the Laver Cup in London on Friday night, perhaps with Rafael Nadal, the culmination of a glorious career which began in 1998 and included 20 Grand Slam titles, 103 titles worldwide and drew a legion of fans to a brand of tennis not seen before or since.

With his recovery from the right knee surgery not as good as he had hoped, Federer will bow out in the Laver Cup, a competition that he helped to found. In his press conference on Wednesday, he promised not to be a ghost, that he will be in and around the tennis world in the future, perhaps mentoring a young Swiss player, through his work with the Roger Federer Foundation and maybe even in the odd visit to the commentary box.

Coming to the decision to retire was not easy, but as he explained to reporters on Wednesday, a summer that began with hope ended in disappointment, with the final death knell to his hopes of a comeback coming when he received the results of a scan, shortly after this year’s Wimbledon.

Federer : “I liked the challenge, but…”

“I guess there was a certain process that started at the beginning of the summer, where you try to go to the next level in training, and I could feel it was getting difficult,” Federer said. “Obviously at that point I knew any hiccup, any setback, for that matter, was going to be the one potentially.

“That you’re going to have harder moments or where you push too hard and you have to pull back a little bit, it’s normal in rehab because you always have to stay in that corridor of doing enough but not too much. I really like that challenge, because I really have to be in tune with my body and with my team of understanding how far can I go?

“Then I think over the course of a few weeks and months there, we just had to really be careful and almost to a certain level too careful. Then I guess I was also getting more tired because you have to put in more effort into it to be able to sort of believe that it was going to turn around. You start getting too pessimistic.”

Roger Federer, Laver Cup 2022 press conference
Roger Federer, at the Laver Cup 2022 press conference

Scan after Wimbledon was the turning point

At Wimbledon, Federer received a standing ovation from the crowd when he was introduced as part of the celebrations of 100 years of Centre Court, a moment that gave him renewed hope that maybe he could return for one more crack at the tournament he loved so much, and where he won eight times.

The results of the scan soon after removed that hope.

I think tennis is a tough sport to bounce back into

Roger Federer on the moment he decided to retire

“Then I also got a scan back which wasn’t what I wanted it to be,” he said. “At some point you sit down and go, OK, we are at an intersection here, at a crossroad, and you have to take a turn. Which way is it?

“I was not willing to go into the direction of let’s risk it all. I’m not ready for that. I always said that was never my goal. If I look back at the last few years that I went through, the surgeries that I had to go through, for me it was always clear that I was going to end my career with no surgeries. You know, before 2016 and even ’16 was a tough year getting back from it.

“Any suggestions there from my side would be : ‘don’t have surgery if you don’t have to and just take the necessary time to come back, because it is brutal’. I think tennis is a tough sport to bounce back into, because you have to be able to play long matches, five matches in a row every week, different continents, different surfaces. There is no substitute for you. Obviously mentally you need to know you have to be able to get all the way back there, and it’s hard.

I didn’t speak to anybody about it other than my team, my parents, Mirka. We knew. Other than that, nobody really knew.

Roger Federer

“Then maybe the hardest part after that one point, of course you’re sad in the very moment when you realise, OK, this is the end. I sort of ignored it for a little bit almost, because I went on vacation and just said, OK, this is it. This moment came shortly after I was at Wimbledon where I still truly actually believed there was going to be a chance for me to come back the next year. At what capacity, I didn’t know, but I thought it might be possible.

“Then on vacation, funnily enough, I didn’t speak to anybody about it other than my team, my parents, Mirka. We knew. Other than that, nobody really knew, and it was perfect like this. Didn’t talk about it. Just hanging with friends and other families. It was wonderful.”

Writing the retirement letter proved stressful

Federer announced his retirement on September 15 in a heartfelt letter, revealing that it was a bittersweet feeling to have to retire from the sport he loved.

“Only then at one point when I returned from vacation I really started to discuss the details of, OK, where, when, how, what,” he said. “Honestly this period was quite stressful getting the letter right, the wording right, using words like “bittersweet”.

“The bitterness, you always want to play forever. I love being out on court, I love playing against the guys, I love travelling. I never really felt like it was that hard for me to do, of winning, learn from losing, it was all perfect. I love my career from every angle. That’s the bitter part.

The sweet part was that I know everybody has to do it at one point. Everybody has to leave the game. It’s been a great, great journey. For that, I’m really grateful.”

Federer: “I really don’t want it to be a funeral”

Federer said he was surprised at how he had come to terms with the decision.

“I was in a very, I guess, worried, scared place to face the music, the media, the fans, and everything, being able to talk about it in a normal fashion without getting emotional, just because I know how much it means to me.” he said.

“But I feel like I probably went through a lot of different stages. I don’t know if you can call it grieving, you know, and then you get to I really don’t want it to be a funeral. I want it to be really happy and powerful and party mode, rather than the other side.

That, for me, was the first thing. I said if I retire and wherever I announce it, it has to feel like it’s going to be fun, and not everybody, Oh, I’m so sorry, are you okay? No, no, I’m okay, but I’m going to be happy.

“For that reason, I think that was also the part where I talked about didn’t want to think about it, because I was not ready in my picture, seeing myself speak on a tennis court was impossible at that moment. I think going through that has helped me a lot that I can be here today.”

Federer says he will miss interacting with fans

Federer said he will miss the feeling of getting ready for a big match, but at the same time, will be glad not to go through it again.

“It’s fun but it’s stressful, and it’s slow days there. A tennis player waits a lot, wait for the moment for us to go out and entertain the people and do it again,” he said.

“Of course I’ll miss a lot of things, the little moments, you know, after matches when it’s all said and done, and the weight drops and you can go for a nice dinner with your friends and team and talk about other things, you know, than just about tennis.

Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2021
Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2021 © Panoramic

“There are so many things I will miss. But of course the fans are at the center of everything, because I lived through the COVID times as well, like we all did, and it wasn’t fun. It wasn’t great. I didn’t like it. I always thought back if we didn’t have the fans, it would have taken away probably over 80 percent of my emotions, of my feelings of what it would have meant.

“I will miss that, you know, just every interaction on the court, off the court, running into people, I don’t know where. OK, that will probably still happen sometimes, but not at events as much anymore, signing autographs, even though some you have to sign again.

“There is those little interactions, and I know these people came from a faraway place, spent a lot of money, took time off from their vacation or from work and come watch me play. I mean, I’ll miss that.”

Could there be a comeback one day?

But unlike some great sports stars who step away from the sport only to return soon after, Federer says he’s done.

“I’m not satisfied,” he said. (But) I’m happy. I’m happy with the decision, because it’s the right one. I thought about it. I have had a lot of time to let it sit.”

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