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Federer one of the greatest athletes: Djokovic

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LONDON:

Novak hailed the retiring Roger Federer as one of the greatest athletes of all time and said he would leave a lasting legacy for the world of tennis.

The 41-year-old Swiss great will play competitively for the last time at this week’s Laver Cup, turning out for Team Europe alongside Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray and Djokovic – the three biggest rivals of his glittering 24-year career.

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Federer, who has won 20 Grand Slam titles, has struggled with injuries in recent years and said last week that he would end his career after the Laver Cup in London.

“His impact on the game has been tremendous, the way he was playing, his style, effortless, just perfect for an eye of a tennis coach, player or just a tennis fan,” Serbian Djokovic told reporters on Wednesday at London’s Tower Bridge.

“He has left a huge legacy that will live for a very long time.” Djokovic beat Federer in four major finals including at Wimbledon in 2019, the Swiss’s last Grand Slam final.

“Both Andy and I didn’t know that this is going to be his last match, his farewell this weekend, so that makes this occasion even greater because he’s one of the greatest athletes ever to play sport, any sport,” said Djokovic, who is one major title behind Nadal’s men’s record of 22.

“His popularity on and off the court speaks for itself. So I’m sure we’re going to have a blast this weekend.”

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This week’s Laver Cup will be the first time that Federer, Nadal, Murray and Djokovic are playing together in an event since the 2019 Australian Open.

“It’s great we will have a chance to spend some quality time off the court together,” Djokovic told Eurosport.

“We have team dinners and will chat about tennis, sports, life. We don’t normally do that on tour, we have our own teams and families, so this is quite unique.

“We all want to win and perform well but at the same time because of Roger’s farewell and the opportunity to be alongside some of my greatest rivals in my career you also want to share some good times off the court too.

“The WhatsApp group is what keeps us together.”

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Phelps finds new focus in mental health fight

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PARIS:

A self-confessed “shark” in the water Michael Phelps trained non-stop in pursuit of his all-consuming dream to become the greatest swimmer of all time.

But the 37-year-old disclosed that none of his 60 plus gold medals, including a record 23 in the Olympics, weigh more than his current career as a mental health advocate.

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After years hiding his depression, Phelps told AFP in an interview at the “Demain le sport” (Sports Tomorrow) forum in Paris, his post-swimming career was even busier than his punishing schedule in the pool.

“I’d rather have the opportunity to save a life than win another gold medal because this is way more important,” said Phelps.

“We have lost way too many Olympic athletes to suicide. I don’t want to lose any more of my Olympic family members.”

Phelps’ depression first emerged in 2004, the year of his first Olympics in Athens when he won eight medals including six in gold.

“Competing was one of my favourite things. I was a shark and smelt blood in the water and kept going,” he said.

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He feared opening up would be “a sign of weakness, giving competitors an edge,” adding: “I went through a period where I didn’t want to be alive.”

Phelps, who was involved in the making of a documentary ‘The Weight of Gold’, praised tennis star Naomi Osaka and gymnastics great Simone Biles for their openness.

“I have to applaud Naomi,” he told AFP. “She went on her social media platform and expressed what she was going through in her own words.

“That’s not the easiest thing to do.

“If you look at Simone Biles, she had that happen to her at the largest moment in her career.

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“It shows you how unexpected a mental health illness is. It can pop up like that,” he said clicking his fingers.

“We need more and more people who are opening up to share to lower down these walls, these boundaries that people have built up.”

Now the father of three boys aged six, four and three his life with wife Nicole is “non stop, busier than it was before, travelling all over the world, working with sponsors or doing motivational speeches.

“(Nicole) can tell you there are days when I wake up and I feel great and the next day I can wake up and be a completely different human, so it’s just trying to find that balance.

“This is going to be an ongoing journey that may never get solved.

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“Finding ways to be your authentic self. I swim, we’ve built a gym in our garage. I write a journal.

“We have a handful of tools that I can reach and use, that’s just because of the work we’ve done to get to this point.”

Phelps retired in 2016, after making a comeback for the Rio Olympics after a two-year hiatus from the sport.

“It helped me to transition into that next chapter which is now mental health and to be able to find something that I’m passionate about and I struggle with.

“It’s like a win-win.”

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With no nostalgia for the punishing sport, Phelps said there was “zero chance” of following in the footsteps of his coach Bob Bowman.

“In general you find the greats in sport aren’t the best in coaching, look at Wayne Gretzky, he tried to coach an NHL team and that did not go very well,” he said.

A role in USA Swimming or world governing body FINA are a possibility but, “not right now”.

“I definitely wouldn’t say no, but a lot needs to happen, there needs to be a lot of changes to be honest.”

But he remains tuned into the issues of the sport and is in favour of an ‘open category’ for transgender swimmers.

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“I think there should be three classes men, women, trans, give everyone an equal opportunity to stand up and race.”



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Enfant terrible to saintly global icon

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LONDON:

From racquet-smashing enfant terrible with a bad attitude and ill-advised ponytail to universally respected role model and modern icon, Roger Federer has attained almost saintly status.

More than 19 years after winning his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2003, which set him on the road to being acclaimed as the greatest player of all time, Federer in the early hours of Saturday bade farewell to tennis.

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He was unable to finish with a victory, losing his doubles match for Team Europe at the Laver Cup alongside long-time rival Rafael Nadal.

At the age of 41 and trying to recover from a third knee surgery in 18 months, the great Swiss has bowed to the inevitable march of time.

He leaves the sport with 20 Grand Slams, including eight Wimbledons, 103 titles and more than $130 million in prize money alone, all driven by a rare grace, laser precision and a signature one-handed backhand.

Self-confidence was never an issue – who else could have walked on to Wimbledon Centre Court sporting a bespoke cream blazer with an embroidered crest?

The artistry associated with the Swiss brought him a global legion of fans bedecked in ‘RF’ hats and gave him an aura that few attain.

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A columnist once famously even penned a gushing article headlined “Federer as Religious Experience”.

Federer also held the world number one spot for 310 weeks, including 237 consecutive weeks between February 2004 and August 2008.

His net worth was estimated in 2019 at $450 million and such is the cash-register recognition of the Federer brand that in 2018, he penned a 10-year, $300 million deal with clothing manufacturer Uniqlo.

He was 36 at the time.

In his prime, Federer left opponents bamboozled.

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“I threw the kitchen sink at him but he went to the bathroom and got his tub,” sighed an exhausted Andy Roddick after losing the 2004 Wimbledon final.

Off court, however, he is Federer the family man, the father of two sets of twins, Myla Rose and Charlene Riva and Leo and Lenny with wife Mirka, a former player he met at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

His path to super-stardom was not always so settled.

As a talented young player, Federer’s hair-trigger temper threatened to stunt his progress.

“I had a tough time getting my act together out on court, trying to behave properly. For me that was a big deal,” he admitted.

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At just 19, Federer famously defeated personal hero Pete Sampras at the 2001 Wimbledon tournament.

Twelve months later, however, Federer exited Wimbledon in the first round.

It took a personal tragedy for him to press the reset button.

Just before he turned 21, his coach and close friend from his formative years, Peter Carter, was killed in a car crash in South Africa.

From that point on, the multi-lingual Federer committed himself to winning in style, no longer consumed by his inner demons.

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Born on August 8, 1981 in Basel, to Swiss father Robert and South African mother Lynette, Federer started playing tennis at eight.

Turning pro in 1998, he won his first ATP title in Milan in 2001 and racked up trophies every year with the exception of 2016, 2020 – when he played only the Australian Open – and 2021, another curtailed season.

His first extended rest, to recover from a knee injury caused by running a bath for his two daughters, led to a 2017 renaissance, with a refreshed Federer winning an 18th major at the Australian Open.

It was after the first of his Australian Open titles in 2004 that he claimed the world number one ranking for the first time.

Federer has eight Wimbledons, six Australian Open titles, five US Opens and a single Roland Garros.

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He won 28 Masters, a 2008 Olympic doubles gold medal with close friend Stan Wawrinka and a Davis Cup victory for Switzerland in 2014.

Had he not competed in the same era as Nadal, who has 22 majors, and Novak Djokovic, his trophy collection could have been more impressive.

Nadal, who has forged a close relationship with Federer, enjoyed a 24-16 head-to-head advantage.

Against Djokovic, with whom dealings were never as cordial as with the equally revered Nadal, Federer trailed 27-23.

They shared history in 2019 when the Serb triumphed in the longest-ever Wimbledon final of all time, just three minutes short of five hours.

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Heartbreakingly for Federer, he squandered two championship points.

Since that day, Djokovic has also equalled and surpassed his 20-Slam mark and beaten his record for weeks at number one.

Despite the impressive numbers racked up over more than two decades, Federer admitted he still battled serious nerves before a big tennis occasion.

“Sometimes it slows down your legs, your pulse starts racing… that can stress you out a tad,” he said.

“I always say I’m happy I feel that way because it means I care. It’s not like going through the motions. That would be a horrible feeling, to be honest.”

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On the eve of his shattering defeat to Djokovic in the 2019 Wimbledon final, Federer said he had not set any date for retiring.

“It’s just discussions I always have with my wife about the family, about my kids, is everybody happy on tour, are we happy to pack up and go on tour for five, six, seven weeks. Are we willing to do that?” he said.

“For the time being, it seems like absolutely no problem, which is wonderful.”

However, with a year lost to injury and the Covid-19 pandemic as well as a stalled comeback in 2021, Federer’s “wonderful time” has finally ended.



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Tearful Federer bows out of tennis with defeat

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LONDON:

Roger Federer described his tennis career as a “perfect journey” despite being denied a fairytale ending with a doubles defeat at the Laver Cup early on Saturday alongside Rafael Nadal.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion has not played since the 2021 Wimbledon quarter-finals because of a knee injury and last week announced his retirement aged 41.

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The Swiss showed glimpses of his old silky self in the match against Team World’s Frances Tiafoe and Jack Sock at London’s O2 arena despite his long period of enforced inaction.

Playing with long-time friend and rival Nadal, the two former world number ones won the first set to the delight of a feverish, partisan crowd, but the Americans rallied to win 4-6, 7-6 (7/2), 11-9.

The result meant Team Europe were locked at 2-2 with Team World at the end of the opening day of the Ryder Cup-style event.

“We’ll get through this somehow, will we? Right?” Federer said with a cracked voice during an emotional post-match farewell on court.

“I’m happy, I’m not sad. It feels great to be here and I enjoyed tying my shoes one more time. Everything was the last time. The match was great, I couldn’t be happier. It’s been wonderful.”

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Federer has enjoyed a storied rivalry with Spain’s Nadal, 36, over nearly two decades – together they have won 42 Grand Slam singles titles in a golden era for the men’s game.

But in a match that started late Friday they were on the same side of the net in a fitting farewell for Federer, who turned professional nearly a quarter of a century ago.

There was a huge roar and standing ovation as the Swiss great and Nadal came onto the black court, dressed in blue shirts and white shorts, both wearing white headbands.

Both doubles pairings held serve fairly comfortably at the start of the match, with cries of “Let’s go Roger, let’s go” breaking out at 3-3.

Federer and Nadal seized on their first break point in the 10th game, winning the first set when Sock netted with a backhand to huge cheers.

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The Americans levelled the match by taking the second set tie-break with ease.

In a nerve-shredding match tie-break, Federer was unable to serve out for the match at 9-8, with Tiafoe and Sock winning the next three points to emerge victorious.

The Swiss was overcome with emotion afterwards, hugging teammate Nadal and waving to the crowd.

“Playing with Rafa on the same team, and having the guys, everybody here, all the legends… thank you,” said Federer, who was joined by his parents, wife Mirka and their four children.

“It does feel like a celebration to me,” he added. “I wanted to feel like this at the end and it is exactly what I hoped for, so thank you. It has been a perfect journey and I would do it all over again.”

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Nadal, who was also visibly emotional, said it had been difficult to handle the intensity of the occasion.

“For me, it has been a huge honour to be a part of this amazing moment of the history of our sport, and at the same time a lot of years sharing a lot of things together,” said the Spaniard.

“When Roger leaves the tour an important part of my life is leaving too.”

The six-strong Team Europe also includes Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray – the other two members of the so-called “Big Four” who have dominated the men’s game for so many years.

Italy’s Matteo Berrettini will take Federer’s place over the weekend as an alternate, with the Swiss great opting not to play singles matches.

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Europe have won all four previous editions of the Laver Cup and took a 2-0 lead after the opening session in London, courtesy of wins for Norway’s Casper Ruud and Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Tsitsipas shrugged off a dramatic on-court protest by a demonstrator who set his own arm ablaze to protest the use of private jets to beat Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman 6-2, 6-1.

In the evening session Murray lost a gruelling encounter to Alex de Minaur 5-7, 6-3, 10-7 before all eyes turned to Federer.

The Swiss is leaving the stage 19 years after winning his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2003.

He retires with a men’s record of eight Wimbledon crowns, 103 titles overall and more than $130 million in prize money, all won with a game defined by a rare elegance and precision.

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Nadal (22) and Djokovic (21) have both surpassed Federer’s tally of Grand Slam titles but Team World captain John McEnroe said Federer’s retirement would leave “a void that will never be filled”.



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