Roger Federer is pondering whether he has a tennis future, declaring, “I have to take a few days and go from there.”
The plan was to celebrate his 40th birthday on 8 August having secured his ninth Wimbledon title and first Olympic gold medal.
I really don’t know if that was the last time I’ll play Wimbledon. Of course I would like to play it again, but at my age you never know what is around the corner. I will talk with my team. I have to take a few days and go from there, see what I need to do to get in better shape and be more competitive Roger Federer
But the Swiss master put his career on hold immediately after a surprise straight-set defeat to world No.18 Hubert Hurkacz in the quarter-finals at the All England Club on Wednesday.
The predictable but pertinent questions flowed. Was this your last Wimbledon? Will you play the Games in Tokyo this month? Are you going to quit?
The GOAT (Greatest of All Time) of his sport has been challenged for the title in recent years by Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic and hung on. He has defied Father Time and hung on. Was the Centre Court darling going to let go after 20 Grand Slams, 103 titles including six in the ATP world finals and countless other milestones – achieved with class, style and panache – in a glory-filled 23-year career?
One of the world’s greatest competitors in the history of sport, let alone tennis, was vulnerable. His body language and voice tone betrayed an individual hurting rather than an unflinching one with superpowers. He had just had his 13th match over the past last year and a half – limited by knee trouble – during which the thought of a successful return at his 22nd campaign at the Championships helped to keep him going. And he suffered his first bagel at the event in the last set against Hurkacz.
Certainly the intense emotion he displayed in front of his adoring Centre Court crowd after congratulating his Polish conqueror, could have been interpreted as a last goodbye.
But he was unfailingly polite and short-changing none of his Zooming inquisitors from the Fourth Estate with his lengthy, thoughtful answers as he sat in the Wimbledon press room.
Yet there was no knee-jerk reaction to satiate the headline writers of the world’s media – and leave a vacuum to the sport without precedence – as he repelled questions in English, German and French seeking a definitive answer to whether he was going to hang up his racket.
He said: “I really don’t know if that was the last time I’ll play Wimbledon. Of course I would like to play it again, but at my age you never know what is around the corner. I will talk with my team. I have to take a few days and go from there, see what I need to do to get in better shape and be more competitive.
“Hubert played great. It was tough, you know. The last few games obviously. You can feel that you’re not coming back from it. I’m not used to that kind of situation, especially not here.
“The last 18 months have been long and hard. I felt very disappointed in the moment (having lost) itself. I still am. I feel horribly exhausted. I could go for a nap right now. You put everything on the line, and when it’s all over you could just go sleep because you’re so exhausted from mentally pushing yourself forward and trying everything.”
Was he retiring now?
He said: “No. I’ve just got to talk to the team, take my time, not feel rushed by you guys or anybody else. I’ve got to take the right decision. The one decision I want to take and where I feel most comfortable. But no, I hope not that that’s going to happen. The goal is to play, of course.
“My goal for the last year was to play another Wimbledon. I was able to make it this year, which I was really happy about. Everything that comes after Wimbledon we will sit down and talk about it.
“It’s just about having perspective. You need a goal when you’re going through rehab. You can’t think of the entire mountain to climb at once. You got to go in steps. Wimbledon was the initial first super-step.
“As you can see, it was a struggle for me and putting in extra effort all the time, especially when things got difficult against Hubert. I knew it was going to be really hard. Now I just got to talk to the team, take my time, take the right decision.”
Physically, Federer felt all right.
He said: “The body actually overall feels fine from the matches. I’m happy I went through all the process of taking losses and trying to play in Paris and Geneva and Doha and Halle, getting myself into match toughness and fitness here in Wimbledon. The process was incredibly slow. The goal was to compete at Wimbledon last year. I barely made it for this year. It was a long, hard road.
“Clearly there’s still a lot of things missing in my game that maybe 10, 15, 20 years ago were very simple and very normal for me to do. Nowadays they don’t happen naturally anymore. I got to always put in the extra effort mentally to remember to do this or do that. I have a lot of ideas on the court, but sometimes I can’t do what I want to do.
“Even though, of course, I’m disappointed I lost. I feel there was a chance. but that’s how it goes. I’ll be fine. I know how I am in these situations. I go maybe very hard on myself, I get very sad, and then after a few hours, even a few days, I’ll be totally fine again and be my old self. I have perspective about it, so it’s all good.”
Multi-Wimbledon champion Boris Becker reckons Federer “should play” the Championships again.
Becker said on the BBC: “Roger Federer should play Wimbledon again; it can’t end with 6-0.”
But the German added: “There were some awkward-looking points from Roger in the second-set tie-break – something we’ve never seen from him on Centre Court.
“He would never ever say if there was a niggle, but this was very unusual. I don’t know if we will ever see the great man again here.
“It’s normal for anybody to make mistakes, but when you’re such a perfectionist as Roger Federer, some of these mistakes were way out of his league. Not just an inch or two, much more than that. He was completely off timing.
“That can happen in a game or set, but in this case, it was the whole match. It was unusual.
“We can only wonder what happened and only he can answer that. As they say, time doesn’t stand still for no man or woman.”