Q4 · 2022Game, set and match to Roger Federer!

I’m sure that, like me, many of you will recently have seen Roger Federer’s emotional retirement from professional tennis at the 2022 Laver Cup in London. The event marked the end of an era for tennis, and also the post-match scenes were truly moving and memorable – even to people who are not close to Roger or big fans of the sport. Everyone I’ve spoken to who witnessed the situation, either inside the O2 Arena or on TV worldwide, was touched by it.

I was privileged to be there. It was a special moment for me too because I had worked with Roger in the early phase of his incredible career. I had attended his first ever match on the ATP tour in Gstaad on July 7, 1998, and now I was present to see one of the greatest careers in the history of all sport draw to a close.

Roger and Seve

The evening had an additional personal and professional connection for me. I was particularly moved by the lengthy, intense locker-room hug that took place between Roger and his long-term coach, Severin Lüthi, just before the match. Seve has worked with Roger for the last 15 years, preparing him for more than 900 matches. Meanwhile, for the last 13 of those years, I have had the privilege of working with Seve as his executive coach and ‘sparring partner’.

At the day of Roger’s last match in London, I asked Seve how he felt about Roger’s retirement. He replied: “I feel sorry for Roger – he would have wanted to play forever”. It was so typical of Seve’s selflessness and generosity as a mentor and coach to think only of his protégé, with not a word about himself, even at a time when he knew that things would never be the same for him either.

As an aside, let me share Seve’s great sense of humour with you. Before the crowd was allowed into the O2, he took the chance to step alone onto the court. He took a photo of himself waving to the empty stadium and then posted it on Instagram with the comment: “Have to take the time to thank all my amazing fans – you are the best!”. So funny (I think)! We can only imagine the many jokes he must have shared with Roger over the years!

Roger and Rafa

For his last competitive appearance, Roger wanted to play doubles with his longstanding rival and friend Rafael Nadal. His wish was fulfilled and then justified by the pair’s high level of performance. Despite many injury problems in recent months, Roger was fully focused and determined, and played really well. Although Roger and Rafa narrowly lost a close contest, everyone could see and share their immense joy at being able to play on court together – on the same side of the net for once!

Of course, most of us know of Roger’s unparalleled achievements. But what struck me again, as it has so often in the past, is how he delivered his performances: his passion for tennis; his level of precision; his ability to surround himself with people he trusts for advice and support; his authenticity; being at peace with himself; and his highly disciplined yet playful approach.

What an inspiration for us all!

As a result, no-one should be surprised that Roger’s rivals have always had enormous respect for him. Which brings us to his tearful farewell in the company of the greatest of those rivals, Rafa, who has also become Roger’s friend, and who insisted on being there for him despite complicated personal circumstances.

A huge range of emotions

The curtain finally came down on his stellar career, with Roger in tears and Rafa sitting beside him, supporting him at this moment. Rafa was so emotionally involved that he too was crying and holding Roger’s hand. It was wonderful to see people so connected and united, especially when Roger’s wife, children and parents also came onto the court.

As these events unfolded in front of me, I felt incredibly moved. I struggled to understand my unique range of emotions, settling on the incongruous idea of attending a funeral without anyone having died. There was sadness, but also celebration. I felt loss, but also gratitude. It was a beautiful moment.

Help others to succeed

While that peak of emotion has passed, it has crystallized in the thought that every effort taken to help others succeed, and to leave a legacy in this way, is worth it. So, if you are in a leadership position and you have the ability to influence and inspire others, continue to perform at your personal best, and be generous in your words and deeds. Be there for others and do everything you can to help them succeed. It’s worth it!

With best wishes,