The ‘Greatest of all time’ debate in men’s tennis will forever be ongoing. Roger Federer nor Rafael Nadal nor Novak Djokovic will ever sit as the undisputed ‘Goat’.
However, when it comes to popularity and status across the sporting landscape, Federer will forever lie in his own tier.
He’s always had a certain level of aura, beyond that of his two greatest rivals. To the extent where you don’t need to know anything about tennis to know Federer.
Sport’s most iconic athletes – the likes of Ali and Jordan – are able to achieve the ‘crossover appeal’, where fans are drawn to a sport on the back of one individual.
Roger’s undeniably had this effect on tennis, bringing as many people to the game as any player in history.
And as far as individual popularity goes in sport, you’ll struggle to find a more beloved and admired figure than the Swiss.
Remarkably, he’s won the ATP Fan Favourite award in 19 consecutive years dating back to 2003.
He has streets and trams named after him, and even has his face on a coin in Switzerland.
He truly is a sporting icon.
And after everything he has done for tennis, Federer will turn 41 this week, and is preparing for what should be a monumental ‘last hurrah’.
As it currently stands, the 20-time Grand Slam champion will make his tour return at the Laver Cup in September before playing his home tournament, Basel, in October.
Beyond that, his schedule remains a mystery – as does the level of tennis which he’ll produce at the ripe age of 41.
American tennis writer Owen Lewis believes Federer will remain measured in his comeback and look to enjoy his final moments on court.
“Throughout his career, [Federer]’s always managed to maintain perspective and so I believe he knows that this will not be a return to winning majors or even a Masters 1000.
“I think what he is probably looking for is a more satisfying end to his career.” Owen told The First Serve
In saying that, Owen is not underestimating Federer’s ability to remain competitive and still present a threat to anyone on tour.
“The fact that he has taken so much time off is a pretty good indication that he's not coming back until he's ready.
“Even as diminished as [Federer] is now, he's good enough to beat almost anyone. It's easy to forget that last year, he made the Wimbledon quarterfinals playing essentially on one leg.
“I'd be surprised if the comeback didn't have some good moments.”
Millions of tennis fans from all parts of the world will be wishing for the opportunity to watch Federer live, one last time.
Given the strong likelihood that 2023 will see Roger’s retirement, there is no doubt that crowds will be out in droves for a final glimpse at the Swiss maestro.
And the prospect of a Grand Slam send-off is electrifying – one which Owen would love to come to fruition.
“I want him to go out at either Wimbledon or the US Open because I know the crowds are going to be completely rapturous.”
Personally – if Federer does intend on retiring in 2023 – I would love to see him make his plans clear early, so that everywhere he goes, fans know it’s their last chance to watch a sporting icon compete.
There is simply no other tennis player with the global following of Roger. And no other player who could enjoy a special send-off in such a wide range of countries.
Melbourne, London, and New York – the three cities where he’s achieved his most Grand Slam success – should be the priority. But to tick off as many major events and locations on tour, would be momentous.
Not only would it give more fans the chance to see off a legend, but it will ultimately have a positive effect on tennis as a whole.
Any event where Federer is competing would have a major spotlight – one which will extend beyond the Swiss and onto other players and moments on court.
The impact of a ‘Federer farewell’ will generate an added buzz in each city where events are taking place and will undoubtedly be significant for the sport.
But while the final comeback may largely be determined by his health, at the end of the day, the more we get to see of Federer in 2023 the better.
Few athletes will ever leave a legacy like Roger Federer – both on and off the court – and it’s now tennis’ time to honour everything he’s done for the game.
A sporting legend deserves a legendary ‘last hurrah’.
Federer's retirement plans will be starting to take shape.
But whilst the details of his final comeback are largely unknown, one thing is for sure – the sporting legend deserves a fitting and global farewell.