London: Novak Djokovic has said Roger Federer has set the tone for excellence, after the Swiss great announced he would retire from the sport he dominated after next week’s Laver Cup in London.
Federer, 41, who redefined the sport with his artistry and grace and won 20 Grand Slam titles, announced on Thursday that injury problems over the past few years meant he would end his glittering career in the men’s team event.
Tributes poured in after Federer’s announcement and Djokovic praised the player he shared an enduring rivalry with during his own rise to the top of men’s football.
“Roger, it’s hard to see this day and put into words everything we’ve shared together in this sport,” said Djokovic, who surpassed Federer’s tally of 20 Grand Slams when he won the Wimbledon title this year, said on Instagram.
“Over a decade of incredible moments and battles to reflect on. Your career has set the tone for what it means to achieve excellence and lead with integrity and balance.
“It’s an honor to know you on and off the pitch, and for many years to come. I know this new chapter has incredible things in store for you, Mirka, the children, all your loved ones, and Roger’s fans. still have a lot to look forward to.
“From our family to yours, we wish you much joy, health and prosperity in the future.”
Djokovic will join Federer as well as his other great rival – 22-time major champion Rafa Nadal – and his compatriot Andy Murray, member of the “Big Four”, when they play on the same team for the first time in the Laver Cup on 23 to September 25.
“Looking forward to celebrating your achievements and seeing you in London,” Djokovic said.
As Federer joined Serena Williams in lifting the curtain on an illustrious career, tennis moved ever closer to the end of a golden age.
Serena’s emotional farewell to the US Open earlier this month was followed by Federer’s announcement. Both players had taken their sport to new levels and had been proclaimed the best to ever handle a racquet, with 43 Grand Slam singles titles between them.
Their departures, along with the fact that Federer’s great rivals Rafa Nadal and Djokovic are not getting any younger, left fans looking back with nostalgia on a glorious period in the sport’s history.
Federer’s decision was not unexpected given his recent injury and form struggles, but it still caused an outpouring of sadness among tennis fans and former players.
“I wanted to find the perfect way to say this, as you so eloquently ended this game – perfectly done, as did your career,” Serena said in an Instagram post, reacting to Federer’s retirement.
“I have always admired and admired you. Our journeys have always been so similar, so similar. You have inspired countless millions and millions of people – including me – and we will never forget.
“Welcome to the pensioners club.”
Like 23-time Grand Slam singles champion Serena, who will also turn 41 in 10 days, the Federer, Nadal and Djokovic triumvirate has dominated her sport for the past two decades.
And despite so many years on tour, they continue to draw fans to the stands and TV screens while their commercial pull still mesmerizes brands and advertisers.
Serena’s place in the sport was underscored by the fact that her last match at Flushing Meadows was the most-watched tennis telecast in ESPN’s 43-year history, while the 2022 edition broke the record for all-time tournament attendance.
The so-called male “Big Three” have revolutionized the sport with their own exploits and fascinating rivalries. They have won a total of 63 Grand Slam singles titles between them.
Federer played against Nadal 40 times while Djokovic faced the Swiss in 50 games as the trio went from strength to strength and with it the sport as a whole and attracted new and old fans.
Yet, in recent years, Serena, Federer and Nadal’s injuries have put more stress on their retirement. Fans and pundits have wondered how the sport will cope with the prospect of losing its most marketable athletes.
With Serena and Federer out in the space of three weeks, the answers could be at hand.
At 36, Nadal is a bit younger, but a chronic foot problem has forced the Spaniard to consider retiring in 2021 and again this year after winning a men’s record 22nd major title at Roland Garros, playing with anesthetic injections before each match in Paris.
Radiofrequency treatment eased his foot pain and allowed him to play at Wimbledon, but the southpaw is unsure if the injury will recur.
Djokovic, 35, is the youngest of the trio, arguably the fittest and seems like the best bet to keep the flag flying for tennis’ older generation.
Nadal’s social media post for his ‘friend and rival’ Federer echoed the mood in the tennis world.
“I wish that day had never come. It’s a sad day for me personally and for sports all over the world,” Nadal said.