Roger Federer's tragic 'wake-up call' before meteoric tennis rise

·6-min read
These pictures show Roger Federer and his former coach and friend Peter Carter.
Roger Federer was rocked by the tragic death of his childhood coach and friend Peter Carter in 2002. Pic: Getty/Twitter

Roger Federer has brought the curtain down on one of the finest sporting careers the world has ever seen, with the Swiss maestro leaving an indelible legacy on the game of tennis.

News of the 41-year-old's retirement has sparked an outpouring of tributes from right around the world, in a fitting salute to a man who has brought so much joy to millions.

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More than 19 years after winning his first grand slam title at Wimbledon in 2003, which set him on the road to be being one of the greatest players of all time, Federer took to social media to announce that his career had come to an end.

He leaves the sport with 20 grand slam titles, including a record eight Wimbledons, 103 titles and more than US$130 million ($A194m) in prizemoney alone - all driven by a rare grace, laser precision and a signature one-handed backhand.

However, the Swiss great's path to super-stardom was not always set in stone, and in fact it took a devastating personal tragedy for him to begin to realise his full potential.

As a talented young player, Federer's hair-trigger temper often threatened to stunt his progress, despite the Swiss defeating personal hero Pete Sampras as a 19-year-old at Wimbledon for his first major trophy in 2001.

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

At 21 years of age, Federer's childhood coach and close friend, Peter Carter died in a car crash in South Africa, which forced the Swiss ace to hit the reset button.

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

“I hope he would be proud,” Federer said about his late Aussie coach in 2019.

“I guess he didn’t want me to be a wasted talent. I guess it (Peter’s death) was a wake-up call for me when he passed away. I started to train really hard.”

In the weeks that followed Carter's death, Federer won titles in Hamburg and Vienna, which he dedicated to his childhood mentor and the man he credited with shaping his iconic technique.

Seen here, Roger Federer poses for a photo with his late coach Peter Carter.
Roger Federer credits late coach Peter Carter with being the biggest influence on his iconic technique. Pic: Twitter

“I lost my coach Peter Carter a short while ago,” an emotional Federer said after beating Jiri Novak 6-4, 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 in the 2002 Vienna decider.

“This title is for him. I miss him a lot.”

In 2017, Federer opened up about how Carter had helped shape his career and mould the Swiss maestro into one of the classiest players the game had ever seen.

“Peter Carter had the biggest impact on me in terms of my technique. That’s what so many people talk about,” Federer said at the time.

“When they talk about my effortless style and technique, I guess. I was able to perfect in later in my life, but he [Carter] set the foundation and that’s why I’m so happy that his parents were at the finals yesterday and saw me win.

“That really meant a lot to me.”

Peter Carter's influence on Roger Federer was immense

David Law, the ATP communications manager when Federer burst onto the professional circuit, says Carter's death transformed him from a boy into a man.

"Peter Carter just kept him on the straight and narrow really and stopped him getting into any trouble," Law said in The Tennis Podcast recently. "Federer was devastated.

"That made Federer grow up incredibly quickly because I don't think he'd ever had to think about mortality before.

"It stopped him in his tracks and it caused him problems for a long time in terms of dealing with it, dealing with the grief. This is someone he knew well, who he saw everyday, who he travelled everywhere with.

"It hit Federer incredibly hard and I think that — and this is a feature of Federer as a boy becoming a man — is that at every stage of his life, whatever has happened, he's digested what has happened and he’s learnt from it. He's moved onwards.

"He will never forget the lessons that man (Carter) taught him and it's a terrible shame he wasn't alive to see everything Federer's gone on to win."

Roger Federer leaves behind an incredible legacy

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 had been after the first of his five Australian Opens in 2004 that he claimed the world number one ranking for the first time.

Federer finishes his career with a staggering eight Wimbledon titles, six Australian Opens, five US Opens and a single Roland Garros crown - part of a rare club to complete the career Grand Slam.

Roger Federer is seen here holding one of his record eight Wimbledon trophies aloft.
Roger Federer won a record eight Wimbledon titles across his legendary career. Pic: Getty

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 Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, his trophy collection would almost certainly have been even more impressive.

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

"I have always had the utmost respect for my friend Rafa as a person and as a champion," he wrote when the Spaniard won a 13th Roland Garros in 2020, equalling his record of 20 majors.

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.

Heartbreakingly for Federer, he squandered two championship points.

Since that day, Djokovic has surpassed Federer's 20 grand slams and beaten his record for weeks at number one.

Federer's stunning longevity saw him play 119 matches at Wimbledon (105 wins/14 losses), 117 in Melbourne (102/15), 103 at the US Open (89/14) and 90 at Roland Garros (73/17).

with agencies

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