federer: Tennis will withstand the resignation of big names, says Roger Federer, who is retiring

Roger Federer paid attention just like everyone else when Serena Williams played what is expected to be her last match at the US Open three weeks ago.

“Not surprised. Just very similar to me in a lot of ways. We expected it to come eventually,” Federer told The Associated Press. “You never want players like Serena to ever retire. … I just thought, ‘What a great career.'”

He acknowledges that their successive departures, each after about a quarter of a century in tennis – he is 41 and walks with 20 Grand Slam titles and she turns 41 on Monday and has 23 major singles championships – will spur some fans to move on from the sport.

However, Federer insists there will be plenty left.

“I mean, look, it’s going to leave some fans with not the same taste for the game. We might lose some because they’re like, ‘OK, well, this chapter is closing for me and I’m going to move on to another sport or another athlete,’ Federer said in an interview at the Laver Cup on Wednesday, where the last game was his outstanding career on Friday night in doubles alongside rival Rafael Nadal for Team Europe.

“And some will stay with the game forever because tennis is just a sport (that), once you’re into it, you’re usually into it. So I don’t think many people will leave,” he continued. “But they might not wake up at 3am for the Australian Open anymore. Or they may not use their vacation time to travel somewhere. Maybe for a few years they’ll be like, ‘Okay, let me go with a friend of mine and have a good adventure trip somewhere until they find their way back.’

He and Williams – along with Nadal, a 36-year-old who holds a men’s record with 22 Slam titles, and Novak Djokovic, a 35-year-old with 21 titles – helped create a golden era in the sport and attract new viewers and inspiring new players.

“Serena and Roger probably have more fans than anyone in tennis,” said Taylor Fritz, a 24-year-old Californian, the 12th-ranked American and part of Team World in London. “It’s hard to replace two iconic people like her, but I think there are still many exciting times ahead.”

But what happens after they’re gone?

“These two players are irreplaceable. I think there’s no question about that,” said John McEnroe, who won seven major trophies from 1979-84. He added this caveat: “The sport goes on no matter what and we’ve witnessed that in every sport over time.”

That’s why Federer is one of the optimists who look to the future.

“I’ve always firmly believed that tennis is bigger than everyone else,” he said, “and it will always produce new superstars.”

Federer believes highlight reel footage circulating on social media can help. The same goes for telling the “captivating story” of each new top player.

McEnroe mentioned the sport’s need to better market fresh faces.

Someone Federer thinks might fit into the ‘superstar’ category is Carlos Alcaraz, the 19-year-old Spaniard who won the US Open and became the youngest man to rank at number 1 in the history of the ATP computerized rankings, dating back to 1973.

Federer watched – on TV – some of Alcaraz’ epic quarter-finals at Flushing Meadows against Jannik Sinner, a 21-year-old Italian. It lasted 5 hours, 15 minutes and ended at 2:50 a.m. in New York – that’s 8:50 a.m. in Federer’s home country of Switzerland. So the father of twins missed the fifth set, he explained, “because I had to take the kids to school.”

He was impressed with both players.

“Super movers. Great ball strikers, forehand and backhand,” said Federer. “And I’ve always said it: the best players are the best players. We saw it with Novak, we saw it with Rafa, we saw it with myself, Lleyton (Hewitt). They call it … . And because you cover the court so well, you end up giving yourself more time and less stress.”

Alcaraz’s all-court ability has been compared to Federer’s, although it’s far too early to put their names in the same sentence.

Federer did not reject the comparison.

“He has great power with his forehand. And that sets everything up for him. In that sense, if you can do it like I did, then you can decide, ‘Should I drop shot? Should I hit big? Should I hit it big again? Or should I actually go to the angle? Or should I come in?'” explained Federer, whose first Grand Slam title came at the age of 21. “My problem when I was younger – and I don’t think so “I was almost as good as he was his age – it’s so hard for me to make a decision. He seems clearer. He’s mentally stronger. He’s worked harder. You see his body when you look at it Look at both of our bodies, we were different types. He has a lot of things that are going in a really good direction. Then it’s just a matter of powering through, plowing through.”