Why everyone loves Roger Federer

We didn’t just want to watch Roger Federer win. That was, on most days, an afterthought. Instead, when he took to the court, we just wanted to see him play; move around court with the grace of a ballet dancer; and run around his backhand to unleash a big forehand.

We wanted to see his famed (and all-too-rare these days) one-handed backhand; and serves delivered with rare effortlessness.

We wanted to see him make the difficult look easy; show that tennis could be art too.

We wanted to see the joy that he derived from the game.

Talk about Federer’s retirement has, believe it or not, been around for almost a decade . At the Shanghai Rolex Masters in 2012, he was asked if he ever got tired of the questions and his answer revealed so much about him and perhaps all his fans too: “It all depends on what you are really happy with. Sometimes you’re just happy playing. Some people, some media, unfortunately, don’t understand that it’s okay just to play tennis and enjoy it. They always think you have to win everything, it always needs to be a success story, and if it’s not, obviously, what is the point? Maybe you have to go back and think, ‘why have I started playing tennis? Because I just like it’. It’s actually sort of a dream hobby that became somewhat of a job. Some people just don’t get that, ever.”

There were greats before him. There will be greats after him. But few have brought as much joy to so many with just a swing of their racquet. Federer is so loved simply because of the kind of guy he is. He was all about the tennis; he was a guy who just happy playing. The losses hurt and the tears (oh, there were tears) were evidence of that. The wins mattered because that showed his hard work wasn’t in vain. The competition gave him a high but he never quite forgot why he started to play the game. Because he liked it.

And he was a nice guy, with enough nice-guy stories about his behaviour to make Keanu Reeves the Hollywood equivalent of Federer — not the reverse. There’s this story, not apocryphal at all, about how he and his team checked into a hotel ahead of a tournament, and he discovered that his coach was in a standard double room while he was in a suite. When told that there weren’t enough suites to go around — after he asked that everyone be upgraded — he downgraded his room to a standard double.

How could you not love the guy?

And if you did truly love him and wanted his autograph, what could you do? Well, for starters, you could head over to his website, click on the management tab, and send the request to his parents’ house — their address is on the page — and within a month you’ll get a photo hand-signed by Roger.

“Well, if I were a child,” he once told ESPN in 2007, “I wouldn’t want to wait two years for a picture of my hero, would you?”

Federer is a hero, alright. The kind that throws pizza parties for the ball kids. He was one himself. It started in Basel in 2003 and has become a tradition since.

And, of course, he managed to be himself despite being one of the greatest tennis players of all time.

“On tour, there were many people who were not as accomplished as Roger and [do] little things like you’re changing your racquet grips, and you leave it on the floor, or there’s a sweaty towel in the training room and you let someone pick it up,” said Andy Roddick in 2018.

“Never for a day did he ever do anything like that. He walks into every locker room and knows the names of the attendants, ‘Hi, how are you? You have two children, right?’ Just the human element of what he brought to the table, even with his stature in the game, is something that I always admired from afar.”

And that is what set him apart. Everyone has their own way but the Federer way seemed to tug at the heartstrings a little bit more. Some might remember a video of two girls in Italy playing a tennis match from their respective rooftops (they were in neighbouring buildings) in April 2020. The Covid pandemic was at its peak and everyone was just trying to survive; trying to find some joy. The video went viral and the girls received a surprise visit from Federer, their hero, a little later in the year — for a game of rooftop tennis. How’s that for joy?

It wasn’t the first time he did something like that and it probably won’t be the last either. For that is who he is… a man who somehow, miraculously, formed a connection with all those who watched him play. A Federer match was an event — a heady mix of hope, frustration, and joy. An emotional ride that hooked people like few other players have. And there was never any doubt who the crowd was rooting for.

His retirement doesn’t come as a surprise.

“I don’t want to overlive,” Federer once said. “I don’t need to be too big. It’s got to feel right when you go to bed at night.”

To the end, he stayed true to his word.

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