Roger Federer was 'nearly unbeatable' in his prime according to Lleyton Hewitt, with the Australian former World No.1 paying tribute to his great rival in the wake of his retirement.
The 41-year-old Federer announced on Friday morning that the upcoming Laver Cup would be his final professional appreance, saying he felt the time was right to walk away from the game.
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His announcement prompted hundreds of tributes from across the sporting world, with the popular Swiss champion remembered for relentlessness and skill.
Hewitt, discussing Federer's retirement while captaining Australia's Davis Cup squad in Germany, said he deserved to be recognised as one of the great champions of tennis, and said he admired him for playing as long as he had.
Though Hewitt would liked to have seen a final appearance at Wimbledon for Federer, who won eight of his 20 grand slam titles there, the Aussie great said he was happy to see Federer leave on his own terms.
“He was the greatest of that time and our era,” Hewitt said.
“But just his win-loss record in the mid-2000s, Roger was nearly unbeatable – it was pretty much only Rafa (Nadal) that could get him, especially on the clay.
“But most of all he’s been a great ambassador for our sport.
“He deserved to go out on his terms. For him to play one more Wimbledon would have been special, but when you get to his age, it’s not easy.
"He’s done everything in the sport he could ever dream of.”
2002 was a disappointing year for Federer. But he still delivers this masterclass against the then world no.1, Hewitt. The talent was unmistakable. Check out the point at 2:00 that culminates in a delicious low volley from near the baseline. Vintage.https://t.co/YTf2FAXMEr
— Srikrishna Ardhanari (@sriki06) September 15, 2022
The news Federer won't be returning for one final fling at the venue for his 20th and last grand slam singles title in 2018 was no surprise after his injury woes, yet it didn't soften the feeling of loss that the sport will feel in Australia.
"We'll miss the legend who's driven the sport to new heights," said doubles great Todd Woodbridge on the Nine Network.
"His game was elegant, masterful, it took tennis to new levels, he used to float around the court, nobody moved more gracefully - and he taught us it was okay to cry.
"I remember when he walked out on Centre Court at Wimbledon in this most magnificent old-fashioned blazer all done with the little gold trim with the big RF on it.
"That epitomised his class; to me, he's always been the James Bond of tennis."
Aussies pay tribute to Roger Federer after Davis Cup win
Australian No.1 Alex de Minaur, fresh from his Davis Cup win, saluted a "flat-out genius on the court", recalling how in 2019 he played Federer in the final of his hometown tournament in Basel and got schooled 6-2 6-2.
"Yeah, a nice little lesson. I was foolish enough to think I had a genuine chance to win. I just remember being completely outclassed, he was just on another level.
"I tried six, seven different game plans out there but was basically at his mercy. Yet it was a cool experience, one of the few times I ever walked off a court when I was like, 'you know what, too good'.
"It was actually fun getting taught a lesson by Roger.
"He's an icon of our sport, one of the guys I looked up to and I'm pretty sure every person on the planet has looked up to. If you're growing up and you don't want to be like him, you don't have a lot of idea about tennis."
A never-say-die singles win from de Minaur and a second doubles masterclass from Matt Ebden and Max Purcell ensured a 2-1 victory on Thursday to give the unbeaten Aussies maximum points from their two ties in Hamburg this week.
The resilient triumph after Jason Kubler's opening loss means that, even before they play hosts Germany in Sunday's final tie of the week, they look assured of a top-two place in their group which guarantees a quarter-final spot at the start of finals week in Malaga, Spain, in November.
Jelena Dokic, women's junior world champion at the same time Federer ruled the teenage men's game, noted on Nine: "It wasn't just the greatness of his tennis, but how humble he was, how gracious he was, what an inspiration he was.
"I always look at people at how they are behind the scenes, on the practice courts or the locker room, and there's no-one nicer than Roger Federer. He'd be really kind to you.
"We'll always talk about him being a great tennis player, but it's important to say what a great person he is too."
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