Over the last few days, the tennis world has been in a state of mourning after learning that Roger Federer is retiring. For fans, the nearly two-decade run has been surreal, elevated by the fact Roger Federer the person appears to be amazing as Roger Federer the magician on the court

Federer was, to use a popular word from Indian internet culture – pavaam. While there’s no English translation for the word, some thinking it ought to mean naïve, but closest would be wholesome. Federer was wholesome through and through. 

Forget the whiff of a scandal, it’s hard to recall a moment in his playing career when he wasn’t a perfect gentleman. James Blake, the former American tennis player recalled how he broke his neck in training in 2004 and then made a comeback, reaching the finals in the Indian Wells where he lost in straight sets to Federer, like most tennis players of his generation. 

However, there was something else on Blake’s mind. As he recalled: “I think everyone’s realised how great a tennis player he is, but I want to tell a quick story. About a couple of years ago, I was injured in a hospital in Rome. It’s a time when everyone is concentrating on their tennis and paying as well as they can and I got one note in that hospital room, and it was from the number 1 player in the world Roger Federer, wishing me the best.”

 

Suman Ghosh, film director and professor of economics at Florida Atlantic University had a similarly heart-warming story about the down-to-earth genius.

Ghosh, who won the National Award for Best Feature Film in Bengali for Podokkhep in 2008 recalled how he ran into Federer four years ago.

Ghosh wrote in his Facebook page: “It would be almost 4 years back. I went to a restaurant for lunch in Miami with my family. There was a wait of around half an hour and we were happy to potter around in their beautiful courtyard when suddenly I saw the great man talking to a journalist for an interview. I just could not believe that Federer was in front of us. I decided that I shall wait for the interview to get over and then take a photo of my daughters Maya and Leela (then 5 and 3 years old) with him.”

What happened next was even more hilarious. His daughters were too busy playing games, which couldn’t be interrupted, even for Roger Federer. 

He added: “Maya was disinterested to stop her games with Leela and take a photo with a stranger. Noticing the awkwardness of the moment Federer came up to her, sat down to her level and asked- Would you mind if I want to take a photo with you? Maya looked at him and said – NO…immediately started playing again.”

While Ghosh was hugely embarrassed, Federer said he absolutely “loved it”. 

The story however had a happy ending as Federer, unlike Maya, was very willing to take the picture.

All these tales just reiterate what Blake tweeted after Federer’s retirement: “I’ve told this plenty of times just as one of many examples that the bar was set so high for an iconic athlete to also be an iconic human being. That bar is almost impossible to get over that you set@rogerfederer thank you for a new standard.” 

 

It’s unlikely the sport will see someone like him again.

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