The inevitable has happened, but it appears sports fans are still not ready for it. “Wish this day would have never come,” said longtime friend and archrival, Rafael Nadal immediately after Roger Federer announced his retirement from tennis on September 15, 2022. The outpouring of emotion, since then, from celebrities and fans around the world, has been, as expected, unprecedented. He has been undoubtedly amongst the most-loved sportspersons ever with a spotless reputation.
Federer announced that he will retire after the Laver Cup next week in London. He said, “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 recognise when it is time to end my competitive career.”
Despite sitting out of most of the recent tennis tournaments while nursing recurring injuries, Federer was never out of the game. A powerful brand and a sports icon, who has been at an all-time high, you can expect Federer to continue endorsing big brands, attend meet-and-greet by clients, scorch the speaking circuit and much more with more time in hand now.
To know the star power of the brand Roger Federer let me take you back to December 9, 2014. It was the inaugural year of the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) started by tennis great Mahesh Bhupathi. The format was inspired by the hugely successful Indian Premier League (IPL), the focus was to draw audiences from beyond the core tennis fans by having international and domestic tennis players in the mix and compete in shorter format matches over the weekend. New Delhi was chosen to host the first year’s tournament.
Filled with excitement, knowing Federer has been a last-minute inclusion into team Indian Aces, following Nadal’s injury, I arrived in New Delhi and straightaway headed to the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, where the IPTL teams were staying. The hotel’s lobby was teeming with fans, friends, business associates and sports journalists to witness the likes of Sania Mirza, Gael Monfils, Novak Djokovic, Sunil Gavaskar (co-owner of Singapore Slammers), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Pete Sampras, Carlos Moya and others walking in and out of the hotel gym after workouts.
But there was one man they were all eagerly waiting to have a glimpse of—Roger Federer! The star power was palpable. At lunch, while chatting with one of the Indian Aces team owners, who had gone to receive Federer at the airport, I gathered similar scenes had earlier unfolded at the airport. And why wouldn’t it be? It was also the first time Federer was playing in India.
The excitement at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium on Day 2 where Federer was to make his maiden appearance on Indian soil was at an all-time high. I reached early around 2.30 pm to check out Federer and his colleagues Sania Mirza, Rohan Bopanna, Gael Monfils, Pete Sampras and Ana Ivanovic at the Indian Aces practice. He had his trademark smile all along, sharing a great camaraderie with his teammates. By then I was privy to inside information that Roger was to play three out of the five games for his team. Slowly, the crowd filled in and by about 3.30 pm it looked like the place belonged to just one man, Federer. And soon after, the whole stadium for rooting for him.
When asked later about his experience of playing mixed doubles after his game alongside Sania, he said he had played mixed doubles only thrice earlier, with Martina Hingis, Martina Navratilova and his wife Mirka Federer. I am sure Sania Mirza has fond memories of this moment of being the first Indian woman to have played with Federer.
A long list of never-ending achievements
Federer was the first person to win 20 grand slam titles and has held the world number 1 spot in ATP rankings for more time than any other player barring Novak Djokovic. Federer has also been in 31 major finals, including a record 10 in a row.
He has been voted by his peers to receive the Sportsmanship Award a record 13 times and has won the ATP Fan’s Favourite 17 years consecutively. He has been named the ATP Player of the Year and ITF World Champion five times and has won the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year award a record five times, including four consecutive awards from 2005 to 2008. He is also the only person to win the BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year award four times.
Federer has broken multiple records including becoming the oldest ever world No. 1 at age 36. He has won the Australian Open six times, the French Open once, the US Open five times, and Wimbledon, a record eight times. Federer became world No. 1 from 2004 until 2008.
On the top of the Money Mountain
An all-time financial champion, he is amongst very few athletes in history to earn $1 billion during his playing career. The list is so small that you can count them on your fingers; with the likes of Tiger Woods, Floyd Mayweather, LeBron James, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi having reached the milestone earlier. Federer’s two decades of earning can be summed up as: About $130 million from official prize money, a figure still lower than Djokovic’s. The rest has come through sponsorships, endorsements, appearance fees and exhibition events around the world. But all wasn’t easy at the start of his career. Sponsorships and endorsements tend to be easier if the player comes from a major market like the United States, United Kingdom or France and not Switzerland, where Federer hails from, with a population of less than $9 million. Federer had crème de la crème of deals from Rolex, Mercedes Benz, Credit Suisse, Moët Hennessy and even Switzerland Tourism. He signed a 10-year contract with fashion brand Uniqlo in 2018 and is said to have been paid $300 million for the same!
To be a brand, you need to be consistently good and that’s very difficult to achieve in sports. Great sports stars like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lewis Hamilton, Tiger Woods, LeBron James, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar and Usain Bolt have been on top of their game for years and hence are loved as brand ambassadors. But what probably puts Federer on the top of this list is his impeccable character both on and off the court, his metrosexual attitude (ability to cry in public being one example), his natural good looks, being a family man and the ability to connect with fans in any part of the world (he speaks in English, German and French fluently). Obviously, apart from being the finest tennis player in the world.
Thank you, Roger, for having entertained us for so long with your fluid power play on the court and being an impeccable gentleman off it.