Roger Federer’s Retirement: Memories of Federer, from Basel to Melbourne Park Tree

Roger Federer's Retirement: Memories of Federer, from Basel to Melbourne Park Tree

Fresh out of journalism school in the spring of 1997, tennis commentary legend Hervé Duthu took me under his wing and put my foot in tennis. The year when Roger Federer is still only a teenager taking his very first steps on the circuit, I mumble my first TV comments, in this case on a Haas-Berasategui in Hamburg regarding the little yellow ball .

There was already a lot of talk about the promising Swiss player, who won the junior title at Wimbledon the following year, the beginning of a great and long love story. Mine won’t start that soon. Me, the former fan of Mecir, Leconte and more recently Moya, I do not immediately adhere to Federer, his peroxidized hair and his pig character (for the youngest of our readers, yes, you read correctly!)…

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Still – young – freelancer and number 3 or 4 in tennis, I had the chance to comment on Federer for the first time at the Marseille tournament in 1999, probably his quarter-final against Arnaud Clément. Nervous, annoying, inefficient, the Swiss doesn’t really inspire me and nothing can let me predict that this player will quickly become my biggest idol, all sports combined.

It was in the year 2000 that everything changed, the year of a fairly phenomenal change for the Basel player. After a small ball in a paper concerning the Olympic medal of Arnaud Di Pasquale, Hervé Duthu sanctions me. Here I am excluded from tennis for an indefinite period and returned to the news. Regardless, I’m not throwing in the towel and understand that you have to be more demanding and rigorous in this job.

Satisfied with this awareness, Hervé suggests that I go there to cover the Basel tournament, alone, without a consultant. Experiencing an “on-site” tournament is always a delight, particularly at the start of a career, and this experience at St. Jakobshalle will leave a lasting impression on me. At the beginning of the week, wandering through the meanders of this gigantic room, I came across a very focused Roger Federer alongside his coach at the time, Peter Lundgren. I find something “changed” in him, not just his look, you can feel him posed, the determination in his eyes.

What follows will confirm this impression. Reached the semi-finals, the Swiss will play at home the best game of this early career still in its infancy, against Lleyton Hewitt. I remember a very high level of play, a rare intensity and a player showing without doubt the qualities of a great champion in the making in the warm atmosphere of Basel.

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Federer wins in the tie-break of the third set and will only fail in five sets in the final against the experienced Thomas Enqvist, 6th player in the world. That weekend, in two games, my whole perception of the future GOAT changed. His transformation is radical and stunning: the nervous player has given way to a monster of calm and concentration in fluid and flamboyant tennis. Thanks be to Lundgren for orchestrating all of this.

A few months later, the schedule assigns me the commentary of the ATP tournament in Milan. Jackpot: it is in Lombardy that “Rodger”, which I still pronounce “Rogé” at the time, unveils its immense prize list. I hardly remember the final, played against Frenchman Julien Boutter, but I still feel the historical stakes of the moment, which makes me vibrate. After Marseille and therefore Basel the previous season, this third final must be the right one and it will be, with difficulty. Twenty-one years later, we can have fun with the concluding sentence of my comment: “Rogé Federer wins his first title, it will probably not be the last.

Then the years pass, the first Grand Slam falls in 2003 at Wimbledon for Federer and on my side I become the holder the same year, which allows me to be in Melbourne in 2004 for number 2 of the artist’s twenty major titles . Like an average spectator, I attend the coronation in the gallery, happy to be there and aware of the privilege that represents the physical presence on an event of this magnitude.

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The following year, still in Melbourne, I remember a fine recital by the Swiss against the Japanese Suzuki in the second round. The kind of match that does not always leave a trace in the memory but comes back to my mind precisely the pleasure felt in describing the beauty of such tennis alongside Eric Deblicker, in a night session, even in a match at One Way. Fed will land a memorable forehand winner there, the ball passing through the outside of the net before returning to the court. Author of the Petit Slam the previous year, the world number 1 becomes a creator of joy.

In the semi-finals, he faces his victim of the 2004 final Marat Safin, a match not to be missed. Bad luck, if you are accredited on TV, you have to put yourself on a waiting list to hope to get a place in the press gallery. And when Federer plays, a fortiori a semi-final, we can always wait, it doesn’t happen. In the cabin then? Why not, but with the glass, it’s living the match without the sound while disturbing the colleagues who commentate.

Surveying, frustrated, the huge passageway of the Rod Laver Arena where the cabins are located, I then see a sort of trapdoor in height, a bit like those which give access to an attic, with a makeshift staircase. It is a place where only accredited photographers are allowed to go. Deceiving the vigilance of the person controlling this exit, I rush in and find an uncomfortable spot, where I can clearly see the court from a small skylight. I am discreet there and will thus live the five incredible sets of this tussle where the Russian will end up defeating 9-7 in the final round a Federer with a sore back. Maybe not as much as mine in the end…

Time continues to flow, the rivalry with Nadal is in full swing, the defeats against the Spaniard follow one another at Roland-Garros, until 2009 when the premature elimination of the Majorcan against Soderling offers an incredible opportunity to the Swiss to win the only Grand Slam title he is missing. For the final against the Swede, who continued on his way, it is better to arrive early and show your credentials in the press box.

I set up there almost an hour before the court entry time and will have as a neighbor throughout the match… Virginia Wade. The former British champion lives the game intensely and ends up admitting her nervousness to me because she absolutely wants to see “Rodger” win. After the emotion of the match point and the deliverance, we will exchange a look of complicit satisfaction. We then realize how happy the world of tennis as a whole is with this completeness in the Slam.

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A new rival then came to torment the Swiss hero: Novak Djokovic, the man who will cause the most disappointment to Federer, starting with the two consecutive semi-finals at the US Open where the Serb will save two match points each time. , preventing a Federer-Nadal confrontation that will ultimately never take place in New York. The second time, in 2011, I commented on this epic match alongside Emilie Loit.

Leading two sets to nothing then joined with two everywhere, the Swiss broke in the fifth and got two match points on his serve at 5-3. The previous year, Djokovic had saved them on his own face-off, at 4-5, also in the fifth. Standing in the commentary booth, I anticipate in my head and begin to prepare my emphatic remarks at the end of the meeting. Lots of superlatives on the program as Federer is about to beat for the second time this year in a Grand Slam a man who has only lost… two games at this time of the season.

The rest, everyone knows it: winning return of Djokovic’s cross forehand, annoyed by the public, who let go of this blow between spite and genius. The puff falls, the air conditioning is on (normal in New York), I sit down again because this point is one of those that you feel is running a game. Four games later, the Serb is in the final, the stadium extinguished except for the Djoko clan who will parade noisily in the aisles.

In the same place three years later, Roger Federer visits the Eurosport set after a match. Maybe finally the time to take a picture with him? While he is answering my colleague’s questions, I approach ATP press officer Nicola Arzani to make this request. “No no, you’re a journalist and journalists don’t have the right to ask players for photos“, he answers me. He is right but I insist, he gets annoyed and remains firm, there will be no exception.

But since he’s here, and it’ll take five seconds…“In front of my stubbornness, he ends up letting go of me”Well ask him but he will refuse“. As soon as the interview is over, as Roger begins to leave the set, I approach him and tell him “Hello Roger, I am the French commentator for Eurosport, would it be possible for us to take a photo together?“He answers me in the affirmative with a big smile and I take the opportunity, while taking the photo, to confess my admiration to him. That day, I was relieved to see him so human and approachable, the the opposite would have been too disappointing.

Finally, of course, there is Melbourne 2017. I am not commenting on the final and my wanderings during this mythical “Fedal” transport me from the cabin of Eurosport France to that of our British neighbors where an enthusiastic Mats Wilander officiates, but also to that of French-speaking Swiss television where my colleague Pascal Droz blows hot and cold according to the evolution of the score.

But the magic of the fifth set is outside, leaning against a tree, a little behind the crowd watching the match on the giant screen in Melbourne Park, that I will experience it. Almost incredulous at the prodigious level of play offered by the two legends. And also by the outcome, with this victorious reversal of the situation managed by Federer. It will take a long time to fall back, pacing the corridors of the Central, meeting Roger with the trophy in hand, attending the press conference made lunar by certain incongruous questions and finally joining the friends at two o’clock in the morning, on foot, always a little elsewhere in the mild summer, with the feeling of having witnessed a new historic moment in this sport to which this man will have contributed so much.

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