Williams’ emotional farewell to U.S. Open earlier this month was followed by Federer’s announcement on Thursday that next week Cup of the tank in London would be his last professional outing.
Both players had taken their sport to new levels and had been proclaimed the best to ever handle a racquet, with 43 Grand Slam singles titles between them.
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Their departures, along with the fact that Federer’s great rivals Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are not getting any younger, have left fans looking back with nostalgia on a glorious period in the sport’s history.
The 41-year-old Federer’s decision was not unexpected given his recent injury and form struggles, but it still sparked a wave of sadness among tennis fans and former players.
“I wanted to find the perfect way to say this, when you so eloquently ended this game – perfectly done, as did your career,” Williams said in an Instagram post, reacting to Federer’s retirement.
“I have always admired and admired you. Our journeys have always been so similar, so similar. You have inspired countless millions and millions of people, including me, and we will never forget.
“Welcome to the pensioners club.”
Like 23-time Grand Slam singles champion Williams, who in 10 days will also turn 41, the triumvirate of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic has dominated his sport for the past two decades.
And despite so many years on tour, they continue to draw fans to the stands and TV screens while their commercial pull still mesmerizes brands and advertisers.
Williams’ place in the sport was underscored by the fact that her last match at Flushing Meadows was the most-watched tennis telecast in ESPN’s 43-year history, while the 2022 edition broke the record for all-time tournament attendance.
The so-called male “Big Three” have revolutionized the sport with their own exploits and fascinating rivalries. They have won a total of 63 Grand Slam singles titles between them.
Federer played against Nadal 40 times while Djokovic faced the Swiss in 50 games as the trio went from strength to strength and with it the sport as a whole and attracted new and old fans.
Yet in recent years, injuries to Williams, Federer and Nadal have put more stress on their retirement. Fans and pundits have wondered how the sport will cope with the prospect of losing its most marketable athletes.
With both Williams and Federer out in the space of three weeks, the answers could be at hand.
At 36, Nadal is a bit younger, but a chronic foot problem has forced the Spaniard to consider retiring in 2021 and again this year after winning a men’s record 22nd major title at Roland Garros, playing with anesthetic injections before each match in Paris.
Radiofrequency treatment eased his foot pain and allowed him to play at Wimbledon, but the southpaw is unsure if the injury will recur.
Djokovic, 35, is the youngest of the trio, arguably the fittest and seems like the best bet to keep the flag flying for tennis’ older generation.
Nadal’s social media post for his ‘friend and rival’ Federer echoed the mood in the tennis world.
“I wish that day had never come. It’s a sad day for me personally and for sports all over the world,” Nadal said.