‘Federer: Twelve Final Days’ Explained: Why Did Roger Federer Retire?

A Roger Federer documentary directed by Asif Kapadia seems like something that can’t go wrong in any way. Federer: Twelve Final Days centers upon the climax of the tennis legend’s career. Kapadia co-directs it, along with video producer Joe Sabia. In this very personal documentary, the camera follows Federer right from the moment when he’s about to officially call it a day, to his final professional match in the Laver Cup. Kapadia is a master when it comes to sports documentaries, but this one doesn’t quite pack the punch of “Sena” or “Diego Maradona.” But it’s still very much watchable, thanks to the man himself. Let’s take a closer look at it. 


What Happens in the Documentary? 

Is there a name bigger than Roger Federer in the game of tennis? Probably not. Inarguably the greatest player of our time (maybe ever), Federer is a phenomenon who has played professionally for more than two decades and has won everything he could. Naturally, for someone like him, getting out of the game is a big deal. But finally, it’s around the corner. Roger Federer has decided to retire. He has been contemplating it for a while, but now the time has come.

Federer: Twelve Final Days opens with him anticipating how the world’s going to react to the announcement he’s about to make. He has obviously discussed it with the close ones—wife Mirka, parents Robert and Lynette, and his kids—whom we see wandering around wearing the jersey of FC Basel, the popular football club from their city. Roger has also spilled the beans to his close friends, all of whom seem to be supporting his decision. A certain man called Rafael Nadal is also among his close friends, whom we get to see much later. Roger’s final message to the tennis world and his fans is short, simple, and very graceful—just like his sublime backhand. With the announcement, he lets the world know that the upcoming Laver Cup is going to be his final appearance on court. The rest of the documentary follows Roger for the remaining days of his career, until the much-anticipated final game. 


Why does Federer decide to retire? 

The simple answer would be a knee injury. Federer has been suffering from a terrible knee injury since 2016, after which his game dipped quite a bit. His skills were still unquestionable, but his knee started betraying him. Especially after a straight set loss (3-6, 6-7, 0-6) against Hubert Hurkacz in the quarterfinal of Wimbledon 2021, he was genuinely bothered. We see archival footage of the match, where, even after losing in such a horrible manner, Federer got a standing ovation and the crowd was chanting his name as he was leaving the court. This is clearly a testimony to how big the man’s legacy is and what he means to tennis fans. If it were in his hands, Federer would have played tennis forever. But for an athlete, a knee injury is pretty much kryptonite, and despite trying his best with rehab and everything, Federer couldn’t move past that. And for a champion like him, losing games was not at all a good thing, especially at Wimbledon, a tournament that he has won a record eight times. So the best possible thing to do was exit gracefully, and that’s what Federer sets out to do.

How do his rivals, Nadal and Djokovic, react to the decision? 

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are undoubtedly the biggest rivals of Federer. The three of them are certainly the top three players of our generation, with the Englishman Andy Murray rounding up as the fourth. While the rivalry between Roger and Rafa was always admired by the tennis fraternity, primarily because of the bonding between the two, Djokovic was initially seen as an outsider. In Federer: Twelve Final Days, both Roger and Novak candidly talk about the early days of the rivalry, where Roger was already an established superstar and Novak was this talented young player. Roger points out that he did spot some weaknesses in Novak’s gameplay but also mentions how he came to respect the Serb as years had gone by. Novak is, of course, a champion of his own right, and his brand of tennis is very different from Roger’s kind. While the terms beauty, grace, and fluidity should always be reserved for describing Roger’s tennis, Novak can very well be associated with grit, passion, and determination. 


In many ways, Novak’s game is closer to the kind of tennis Rafael Nadal plays. The documentary sheds light on the famous grunt of Novak and the aggressive gestures Novak makes to intimidate his opponent. Roger, on the other hand, has always been calm and relaxed on court. He says he thought about trying to look aggressive on the court, but if he had done that, then that would have been pretending only. With all this history, it’s only justified that in his last tournament, Roger played alongside Rafa and Novak (and also Andy Murray). In the Laver Cup, which is a competition where two teams—Europe and America—compete, with all four of them being from Europe, they’re all part of the same team.

What Happens at His Final Match?

If I have to put it bluntly, it hardly matters. I mean, we all know that Federer lost his final match in the Laver Cup, where for the first time, “Team America” won the trophy. But the 2022 Laver Cup was all about Roger Federer and nothing else. And Kapadia and Sabia’s documentary wisely focuses on the behind-the-scenes action of the actual match. This is obviously the meatiest part of the whole documentary, where you finally get to see the things you wished for. Djokovic greeting Roger and getting emotional, a final press conference before the tournament where everyone from Rafa to Novak to Murray to legends like Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe (captains of Team Europe and Team America, respectively) reminiscing about Roger, Murray taking a dig at Novak while introducing him, and then Novak doing the same to Rafa—all these moments are wonderfully captured. But the pick of the bunch has to be Novak, Murray, and everyone else cheering on Roger (and Rafa) when they’re playing their final match. Even though Roger loses the match, he does show some of his vintage moves. In fact, Roger and Rafa almost won the match, but they failed to secure the “match point.” Once the match is done, everyone, including Roger himself, breaks down in tears. Especially Rafa can’t stop crying, which only proves how much Roger meant to him. Well, for someone of the stature of Federer, it is only fitting to have a swansong as beautiful as this one, where even his formal rivals can’t stop tearing up. Roger Federer might stop playing, but for tennis fans all around the globe, he remains forever.


Rohitavra Majumdar
Rohitavra Majumdar
Rohitavra likes to talk about movies, music, photography, food, and football. He has a government job to get by, but all those other things are what keep him going.

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