The Last Word: Roger Federer, don’t tarnish the memories... bow out now

I want to remember Federer at his peak, not for having toppled off it

Roger Federer is hands down the best tennis player ever to grace a court and singularly the most polite and accommodating athlete I have ever interviewed. So I say this with a heavy heart, but he should retire.

I know there are those – they are many and include Tim Henman – who say that the greatest of them all has earned the right to determine the moment of his own departure from a sport he so utterly dominated.

But I cannot sit by quietly while the 17-time Grand Slam men’s singles champion, and my all-time sporting hero, insists on chipping away at his legacy by losing to a string of players who are simply not in his class.

I have been holding my tongue ever since his shock second round exit from Wimbledon this summer at the hands of Sergiy Stakhovsky, a rank outsider from Ukraine. I was at the All England Club that night and, as difficult as it was to accept, it tangibly felt like the end of an era.

But the 32-year-old Swiss immediately insisted he would be back and, my faith in his genius intact, I decided to let it pass. He knows best, right? Then he lost to Tommy Robredo in the fourth round of the US Open and my confidence wavered.

His latest defeat – in three sets to Gaël Monfils at the Shanghai Masters this week – was the final straw. It leaves Federer struggling for a place in the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals, which he has won a record six times, and fans wondering if they really have seen the best of the best.

All the evidence – despite the caveat of a recent back injury – would suggest the answer is “yes” as he endures the worst season of his career since he first won Wimbledon a decade ago. So why won’t he call it a day?

He already has the most Grand Slam singles titles of any man – a record that is unlikely ever to be eclipsed, given the punishing toll the modern game takes of the human body. He has nothing left to prove.

I want to remember him at his peak and not for having toppled off it. Sadly, Federer is displaying all the symptoms of denial usually seen in a prizefighter seeking one last comeback.

In the week that Ricky Hatton released his candid autobiography, War and Peace: My Story, we should remember just how fine the line is between greatness and narcissism. It is barely a year since the former champion of two weight divisions made the disastrous decision to return to the ring after his defeat to Manny Pacquiao. Seeing the referee count him out after he was floored by a left hook from Vyacheslav Senchenko made for painful viewing. Had he retired before his last two fights, his win-loss record would have stood at 45-1.

Boxers (Rocky Marciano aside, who retired aged 32 undefeated after 49 fights) are the athletes most likely not to know when they’re cooked but other sports offer salutary tales of legends who refused to bow out in their prime.

Brett Favre, the star quarterback for the Green Bay Packers during a 15-year period and holder of numerous NFL records, became fodder for stand-up comedians over the “will-he-won’t-he” saga surrounding his future.

Speculation about his retirement dragged out over nine years until he finally collected his NFL pension in 2011. Even so, just last month, Favre’s agent, Bus Cook, said the 44-year-old was so fit he could play in the NFL today. Give it up already.

Jimmy Connors might have the Open era record of 110 singles tour titles but Bjorn Borg had it right. Go out on top when people are least expecting you to. It adds a mystery and allure that feeds legends: there is a perception of immortality if the live footage ends when the athlete in question is only 26 and still has a washboard stomach.

Brevity worked for Bobby Jones, who remains the only golfer to have completed the major grand slam in a single season despite signing his final competitive card at the age of 28. They made movies about him. I’ve not seen one about Fred Funk.

Maybe Federer has one last Wimbledon title in him. But the likelihood that he doesn’t is greater and that risks diminishing the magnificence of the seven he already has.

There is no debate here. Federer is the best. End of. He should end it before the memory is tarnished.

BUY WIMBLEDON TICKETS

Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'