Outpouring of adoration and thanks as legend calls time on glittering career
Roger Federer formed a closed bond with China throughout his career, but the Swiss star is especially adored in Shanghai, where he regularly starred at the city's ATP tournaments. Federer's frequent public appearances and enthusiastic participation in promotional events in the city further added to his popularity with the local population. On Thursday, the 41-year-old announced his retirement from professional tennis, prompting an outpouring of tributes from fans on Chinese social media.
Hailing his legendary career and deep bond with the country, the Chinese tennis community has joined the world in paying tribute to Roger Federer as the Swiss maestro waves goodbye to his glorious career.
As arguably the greatest to ever play the game and the most popular man on the tour, Federer's announcement on Thursday that he will retire from pro tennis after this week's Laver Cup in London has triggered an outpouring of heartfelt emotions and respect from his huge legion of fans in China.
From his first trip to China in 2002 at the season-ending ATP Masters Cup (now known as the ATP Finals) to his latest visit in 2019 at the Rolex Shanghai Masters, Federer has built a special connection with China, where the growth of tennis has overlapped with the upward trajectory of his career－from young breakout star to revered icon and legend.
A photo album documenting the 20-time Grand Slam champion's memorable moments from his visits to China was among a number of trending topics related to his retirement on Chinese social media over the weekend. The photos included a fresh-faced Federer at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the affable Swiss chatting with locals on the Shanghai subway, and plenty of pictures capturing his many visits to the city's landmark Bund area－all speaking volumes of his deep connection with the country.
It's safe to say that, other than China's two-time women's major champion Li Na and doubles legends Zheng Jie and Yan Zi, it was Federer who helped enlighten the world's most populous nation about the beauty of tennis, with his elegant style of play and exquisite skills second to none.
"The greatest player of all time is retiring, which makes me feel sad and sentimental," Yan, a doubles champion with Zheng at the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2006, posted on her Weibo account.
"I became a fan because of the way he mastered tennis, playing effortlessly and elegantly yet still winning at the highest level," said Yan, who met Federer at the Bird's Nest stadium on Aug 8, 2008 when the Beijing Games opened on the Swiss great's 27th birthday.
"I felt so blessed to have taken that photo, perhaps the most precious of mine, with him at the Beijing Games, which I will cherish for a lifetime."
After playing 1,526 matches over 24 years on the pro circuit, Federer has won 103 singles titles, including 20 majors (only behind Rafael Nadal's 22 and Novak Djokovic's 21), stayed as men's No 1 for a record 237 consecutive weeks and won an Olympic gold medal in doubles with compatriot Stan Wawrinka at Beijing 2008.
After sharing the limelight with Nadal and Djokovic as the sport's fabled 'Big Three' for over a decade, injuries blighted Federer's career over the last few years. He underwent two knee surgeries in 2020 and a third after he was defeated by Hubert Hurkacz in the 2021 Wimbledon quarterfinals－his last competitive match to date.
Acknowledging that his body had sent a clear message to stop, Federer posted a statement on Instagram on Thursday to confirm the decision that everyone knew would come but hoped never would.
"I thought I would still have the chance (to watch him play live). But time waits for no one. An era has come to an end," China's women's world No 37 Zheng Qinwen wrote on Weibo.
"Federer represents a marvelous generation. The way he played has made tennis a graceful and charming sport that totally beguiled me," said Zheng, who at 19 years old has become one of China's brightest stars after enjoying impressive runs at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open this year, her first season on the pro circuit.
"All those exciting moments that he created will forever hold a special place in the hearts of tennis fans around the world. Appreciate everything that he's done for the sport."