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Tara Sullivan

With elegant forehands and overpowering serves, Roger Federer set a high bar for men’s tennis

Roger Federer won Wimbledon eight times.Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

Roger Federer may hail from Switzerland, but Wimbledon has always been his tennis home.

And though it’s been five years since he won the last of a record eight titles at the All England Club and three since he reached the final in 2019, the reception he received this past July said everything about his relationship with his favorite court.

Of all the players to participate in a celebration of Centre Court’s 100 years, it was Federer who most delighted the crowd, not just for the trademark elegance seeping from his James Bond suit and kicky white sneakers, but for the hope that emanated when he said in an interview, “I hope I can come back … one more time.”

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Alas, there will be no more Wimbledons for Federer; no more US, Australian, or French Opens either. The 41-year-old racket maestro announced Thursday he is retiring from the competitive game, and will make the upcoming Laver Cup in London his last stop on the ATP Tour. Like Serena Williams before him, Federer leaves the game on his own terms, yet still manages to leave us wanting more, even when we know he’s already given us everything he had.

“The past three years have presented me with challenges in the form of injuries and surgeries,” he said in an audio message posted on social media. “I’ve worked hard to return to full competitive form, but I also know my body’s capacities and limits, and its message to me lately has been clear.

“I am 41 years old, I have played more than 1,500 matches over 24 years. Tennis has treated me more generously than I ever would have dreamt and now I must recognize when it is time to end my competitive career.”

And so does Father Time remain undefeated. Federer’s loss is our loss too. He will be missed, a credit to the way he played the game, to the elegance and ferocity that graced the court while he was on it, as well as the class and dignity that defined the person off it.

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He had no more to give, and deserves nothing less than the grandest, greatest victory lap there is.

“This is a bittersweet decision, because I will miss everything the tour has given me, but at the same time there is so much to celebrate,” he said. “I consider myself one of the most fortunate people on earth. I was given a special talent to play tennis and did it at a level I never imagined for much longer than I ever thought possible.

“I have had the immense fortune to play in front of you in over 40 different countries. I have laughed and cried, felt joy and pain, and most of all I have felt incredibly alive.”

We all should have something in our lives to inspire such feelings, and such self-awareness.

Much like Williams did in her tearful farewell on a US Open court, Federer shared deep gratitude for his family, his parents, his sister, and especially his wife, Mirka, who managed so much of their lives and their four children (two sets of twins!) while he wrung every last drop from tennis that he could. A talented young athlete who was rumored to be a hell of a soccer player, too, Federer recalled being a ball boy in his hometown of Basel and nurturing a tennis dream.

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Roger Federer has not competed since playing at Wimbledon in July 2021.Alastair Grant/Associated Press

What followed was the development of a skill set that none other than Billie Jean King was moved to call “the most complete game of his generation,” one defined by elegant crosscourt forehands, balletic one-handed backhands, and plenty of overpowering serves. The combination was as much an athletic performance as it was an athletic feat, one that left viewers feeling his game as much as watching it, absorbing with appreciation how everything in his body and mind seemed to work in such perfect concert.

And about that ‘generation’ BJK mentioned — it’s impossible not to lament how Federer’s exit permanently changes what we have come to know as the Big Three era, these decades across which he, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic combined to make tennis must-see, appointment television, their combined 63 Grand Slams incredible to witness.

Rafa and Joker go on, but they do so owing a lifelong debt to Federer, for he was the one who ushered it all in, the one who set the bar so high they had no choice but to be inspired to match it. At 41, he got the head start on Nadal (36) and Djokovic (35).

“Dear Roger, my friend and rival,” Nadal wrote on Twitter. “I wish this day would have never come. It’s a sad day for me personally and for sports around the world. It’s been a pleasure but also an honor and privilege to share all these years with you, living so many amazing moments on and off the court.

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“We will have many more moments to share together in the future, there are still lots of things to do together, we know that. For now, I truly wish you all the happiness with your wife, Mirka, your kids, your family and enjoy what’s ahead of you. I’ll see you in London @LaverCup.”

We’ll see you too. From the moment Federer broke through at Wimbledon in 2001, upsetting Pete Sampras in the fourth round, we haven’t missed him. The game will go on — did you see 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz win the US Open? — but without Federer in it, it sure won’t be the same.


Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her @Globe_Tara.