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'Federer: Twelve Final Days': A teary end to a tennis legend's last court appearance

An emotional Roger Federer, left, of Team Europe sits alongside Rafael Nadal after their Laver Cup doubles match against Team World.
An emotional Roger Federer, left, of Team Europe sits alongside Rafael Nadal after their Laver Cup doubles match against Team World. Copyright Kin Cheung/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Kin Cheung/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved
By Tokunbo Salako
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Roger Federer fans, get your tissues ready… the Amazon produced documentary on the run-up to the tennis maestro's final event is a bit of a tear-jerker.

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Federer: Twelve Final Days hit our television screens this week, giving tennis fans across the globe another opportunity to reflect on the career of arguably one of the sport’s most cherished and greatest ever players.

The nearly 90-minute-long documentary, directed by Academy Award-winning Asif Kapadia and Joe Sabia, follows the Swiss Maestro over a 12-day period, from his retirement announcement to his final professional appearance on court at the 2022 Laver Cup in London.

At 41 years old, Federer decided to hang up his racket following a knee injury that required three operations. It ended a stellar 25-year career, which saw him win 20 Grand Slam titles, 103 ATP tour titles and earn sporting superstar status.

He chose to say goodbye to his fans by playing at the fifth edition of the Laver Cup, a Ryder Cup-style invitational tournament that pits Team Europe against Team World.

While there is no real dramatic sporting climax to the documentary per se, it is a moving account of the player’s decision to call it a day and his final outing on court alongside long-term rivals and, for this occasion, teammates Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Andy Murray.

A tennis bromance

As well as showing intimate moments with his family and behind-the-scenes footage of Federer negotiating his way through the final moments as a professional athlete, the documentary shines a spotlight on his close relationship with his great rival and friend Nadal.

Federer's losing doubles match with Nadal marked the end of an illustrious career that included 20 Grand Slam titles and a role as a statesman for tennis.
Federer's losing doubles match with Nadal marked the end of an illustrious career that included 20 Grand Slam titles and a role as a statesman for tennis.Kin Cheung / Associated Press

This was on full display in the second half of the documentary, especially in the build-up to and in the immediate aftermath of his tennis swan song at the O2 arena, where the two tennis icons teamed up for a doubles match.

Federer is renowned for his elegant and graceful playing style as well as his classy demeanor both on and off the court, but he has also been known to get quite emotional on occasion at the end of matches.

So, to no great surprise, the documentary zeros in on Federer as tears cascade down his face and Nadal openly weeps to his side.

The realisation of Swiss’ impending departure from the game hits hard.

In the film, a tearful Federer admits his relationship with the Spaniard is “very unique” and that “getting along so well and having respect for one another is definitely special, to say the least.”

Over the years, Federer and Nadal have put each other through their paces with iconic battles, thrilling tennis fans around the world. The King of Clay confessed he would greatly miss their on-court rivalry, saying in one scene, “The feeling before a Grand Slam final against Roger, it’s different—a different atmosphere, a different kind of pressure. To know that I will not have this feeling for the rest of my life, it’s something that… it’s painful.”

He added, “Even if we had a great rivalry on court, we were able to have a very good friendship outside. And this is something very difficult to find in this very competitive world.”

Djokovic: The party crasher

Team Europe's Novak Djokovic, right, listens to Roger Federer during a match against Team World's Frances Tiafoe.
Team Europe's Novak Djokovic, right, listens to Roger Federer during a match against Team World's Frances Tiafoe.Kin Cheung/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved

One insightful moment of the film came when Federer admitted that he wasn’t fully convinced of a young Djokovic’s ability to challenge at the top, saying he had “technical flaws” in his forehand and backhand.

“But then he ironed those things out super well, and he became an unbelievable monster of a player,” said Federer.

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He added that the controversial Serbian became the “party crasher of the Rafa-Roger fans.”

This triumvirate of Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic dominated men's tennis for well over a decade, collectively winning 63 Grand Slam titles up to Federer’s retirement in 2022. Their rivalry has been one of the most compelling narratives in the history of tennis.

Both Djokovic and Nadal eventually took advantage of Federer’s injury-hit final two seasons to surpass the Swiss legend on the Grand Slam all-time winner’s list, with Djokovic topping the charts at 24… consider the party well and truly crashed.

As a tennis fan, watching this documentary inevitably stirs feelings of nostalgia. Despite Federer having retired only two years ago, his influence in leading what is arguably the most sensational and captivating era in the history of men's tennis is unmistakable, and this emotional documentary succeeds in making you want to go back and revisit the maestro's matches, again. And again.

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