When the moment arrived, when the inevitable occurred and Roger Federer announced his retirement, it felt to us Swiss almost as though he had died.
On the front pages of the nation’s major newspapers, his face was printed in shades of gray, much like Queen Elizabeth II’s a week earlier. There were eulogies about “King Roger,” reflecting on the elegance of his game and his character. The news channels ran special reports; on the radio, there was talk of little else. Journalists wrote about their personal encounters with the “Maestro.” Politicians posted selfies they had taken with him at some point over the last 20 years, and everyone who had even remotely come into contact with possibly the greatest tennis player of all time — as a physical therapist, or a ball kid or a racquet stringer — was given time and space to tell their own personal anecdote.
Federer just continued to do what he had done before. He dominated the tennis world. And he did it like a good Swiss: politely. Severin Lüthi, Federer’s longtime coach, told my newspaper that on the day Federer announced his retirement, he called Lüthi three times to ask how he was coping. “I think many will remember him primarily as a nice person,” said Lüthi. “That’s more important than one title more or less.”
How very Swiss!
The longer Federer’s career lasted, the more the people of Switzerland came to realize that he was finally bringing the world’s view of us into alignment with our view of ourselves. Suddenly, we were no longer just money-grubbing gnomes from Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse; we were Federer’s countrymen. On tennis’s world stage, people who couldn’t have found our country on a map were waving Swiss flags. Roger Federer was shining, and we were shining with him.