Roger Federer: Twelve Final Days documentary charts the end of his career

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption, A new Amazon Prime documentary goes behind the scenes of Roger Federer’s final days before retirement

  • Author, Ciaran Varley
  • Role, BBC sports journalist

At one point during Asif Kapadia and Joe Sabia’s new 90-minute documentary, the microphone picks up Roger Federer’s old coach Severin Luthi remarking that “athletes die twice.”

That line is a central theme of Roger Federer: Twelve Final Days, which documents the period between the announcement of the Swiss tennis great’s retirement and his final match in September 2022.

With tearful speeches, tributes and performances from legends such as Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg, the occasion was a celebration, but also a way to say goodbye to the then 40-year-old’s career.

Near the end of the film, the tennis legend admits that thoughts of retirement were accompanied by a disturbing question: “What happens next?”

After Federer made the decision to retire, director Sabia was given behind-the-scenes access to the athlete’s family and team during this sensitive period.

Kapadia, who directed films about Ayrton Senna and Diego Maradona, was later brought on board to co-direct and add archival footage.

Here are some insights from the documentary.

Federer’s wife Mirka found it painful to see his decline

An injury eventually forced Federer to call time on his career. He underwent three knee operations between 2020 and 2022, reaching just three of the eleven Grand Slams in that time. In that period he has seen his record of 20 Grand Slams surpassed by both Rafael Nadal, who has 22, and Djokovic, who has won 24.

After a match in which he committed 31 unforced errors, he left the field, clearly disillusioned by his unusual performance.

During the documentary, Federer says his wife Mirka “almost wanted to look the other way” while he was struggling and that he only realized how much she had suffered after he told her he was retiring.

He wasn’t “completely convinced” of Djokovic when they first played

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption, Federer first faced the then 19-year-old Djokovic in 2006

Between July 2005 and August 2009, Federer and Nadal occupied the top two places in the ATP rankings.

Towards the end of that period, however, a new pretender to the throne emerged.

However, when Federer first faced Djokovic in Monte Carlo in 2006, the 42-year-old says he was not “completely convinced” despite the “hype” surrounding the young Serb.

“I don’t think I gave Novak the respect he deserved because of his technical shortcomings,” says Federer, adding: “I felt like Novak had a very extreme grip on the forehand and that his backhand was in front of me was not as fluent as it is today.”

He goes on to say that Djokovic has “ironized” those shortcomings and become “an incredible monster of a player.”

Video Caption, Roger Federer on retirement, rivalry and Euro 2024

‘It’s not my personality’

Federer is praised for his graceful playing style, but also for the lightness with which he carries his success.

However, during one scene, the former world number one addresses the accusation sometimes leveled at him that he doesn’t always fight hard enough when he loses.

“I didn’t quite understand what that meant,” Federer says, adding: “Should I growl, should I sweat more, should I shout more, should I be more aggressive with my opponents?”

He goes on to say, “I tried, but it was all an act”, adding, “It’s not my personality”.

Nadal says it is ‘painful’ to know he will never have the feeling of meeting Federer again

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption, The tears continued as cameras followed Federer and Nadal into the Laver Cup dressing room

No one is more intertwined with Federer’s career than Nadal. The pair played each other 40 times between 2004 and 2019 and shared a brilliant rivalry.

They are also good friends off the field. Federer says in one scene, “I think it’s possible to play hard and fair, but be kind at the same time.”

Federer’s last professional appearance saw him team Nadal in a doubles match at the 2022 Laver Cup and both were left in tears afterwards.

Federer says during the final scenes that he knew Mirka and “the Rafa angle” would be the things that made him cry during his farewell.

Meanwhile, Nadal says of Federer that his legacy would “remain forever in the world of sports” and that we will never see “a player with that flow, with that perfection, that elegance” again.

Elsewhere, he says the feeling of playing against Federer in a Grand Slam final is “a different atmosphere” and a “different kind of pressure”. He admits it feels “painful” to know he “won’t have that feeling anymore.”

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